Rooikeelbyvreter [Afrikaans]; Sitembandayi (generic term
for non-Carmine bee-eaters) [Kwangali]; Muhladzanhu, Muhlagambu (generic terms
for bee-eater) [Tsonga]; Morôkapula (generic term for bee-eater) [Tswana];
Witkapbijeneter [Dutch]; Guêpier à front blanc [French]; Weißstirnspint,
Weißstirn-Bienenfresser [German]; Abelharuco-de-testa-branca [Portuguese]
The White-fronted bee-eater is endemic to Africa, occurring
from Gabon and Uganda south to southern Africa, where it prefers areas with
grasslands, broad-leaved woodland and bushy pastures. It feeds exclusively on
insects, mostly the Apis mellifera (Honey bee) but also bugs, wasps etc.
It has one of the most complicated societies of all birds, with each colony,
which is made up of 10-20 nests dig into riverbanks or gullies. Colonies
comprising a number of groups, known as clans. Within each clan is a number
families, each containing a breeding pair and 1-5 "helpers", which are usually
the previous season's brood.
Distribution and habitat
Endemic to Africa, occurring from Gabon and Uganda south to southern Africa, where it is locally common
in the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), northern and south-eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe,
Mozambique, Swaziland and north-eastern and central South Africa. It is often associated with riverbanks and eroded gullies, as they are
used as nesting sites. It generally prefers wooded grasslands, bushy pastures,
broad-leaved and mixed woodlands, especially with nearby watercourses.
It feeds exclusively on insects,
doing most of its hunting from a perch. Once prey is located, it descends to
grab the insect before returning to its perch to swallow it (see images above). It also pursues
prey aerially, sometimes ascending to hundreds
of metres above the ground. The percentage indicates the proportion of that food item in the
diet, e.g. 4% of its diet is Hemiptera). In one study, the following food items have been
recorded in its diet:
Hymenoptera (wasps, bees and ants, see fig. 2 and 4) - 91%
Apis mellifera (Honey bee) - 78% of Hymenoptera in diet, or 71% of
its total diet.
Monogamous, strongly gregarious colonial
nester. It has one of the most complicated societies of all birds, with each
colony comprising a number of groups, known as clans.
Each clan contains 3-6 "families", each containing one breeding pair and
1-5 helpers. Although a number of clans live in one colony, each has its own
feeding territory, which they it defends vigorously from other clans.
The helpers are usually the offspring of the breeding pair, helping with
incubation and raising of the chicks.
Interestingly, 9-12% of the chicks are not related to either one or both
parents. If one parent is not related, it is because one of the parents
copulated with a bird usually outside the family group - this is known as
"extra-pair copulation". If both parents are not related, it is due to
parasitism, where an unpaired female lays eggs in a breeding pair's nest,
sometimes destroying any existing eggs which are not her own - this is known
as intra-specific parasitism.
The nest is built by both sexes and sometimes a helper, consisting of
a tunnel 1.0-1.2 m long, ending in an oval chamber. The burrow is usually dug into
riverbanks or gullies by moving sand with its bill or, if it finds a more
serious obstacle, using a bicycling action with its feet.
Egg-laying season is normally in early summer, from August to
It lays 2-5 eggs, with parasitism within the species also recorded,
where an unpaired female lays its egg in a breeding pair's nest. It waits
for the nest owner's absence, removing any existing eggs before laying its
own. These chicks are raised normally, as there is no way that the adoptive
parents can know whether they are their own.
Incubation lasts roughly 21 days, with both parents and helpers
The chicks stay in the nest for 20-28 days, leaving before they have
fully learnt to hunt. They are taught by their parents how to hunt insects, after which some juveniles disperse while others remain to
help with the rearing of the next generation.
Not globally threatened, in fact its distribution range has
increased recently. Some colonies are susceptible to disturbance by humans,
sometimes abandoning it completely.
Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG (eds) 2005. Roberts
- Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker
Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.