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Merops bullockoides (White-fronted bee-eater) 

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]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Coraciiformes > Family: Meropidae

Merops bullockoides (White-fronted bee-eater)  Merops bullockoides (White-fronted bee-eater) 
fig. 1 - White-fronted bee-eater carrying dragonfly. [photo Callie de Wet ©] fig. 2 - White-fronted bee-eater carrying bee. [photo Callie de Wet ©]
Merops bullockoides (White-fronted bee-eater)  Merops bullockoides (White-fronted bee-eater) 
fig. 3 - White-fronted bee-eater carrying insect. [photo Callie de Wet ©] fig. 4 - White-fronted bee-eater carrying carpenter bee. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

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.

Distribution of White-fronted bee-eater in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Brood parasites

It has been recorded as host of the Greater honeyguide.



Recorded by June Stannard, Ndumu Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal 1964, [© Transvaal Museum]




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:

  • Insects
    • 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.
    • Hemiptera (bugs) - 4%
    • Coleoptera (beetles) - 2%
    • Diptera (flies) - 0.7%
    • Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies, see fig. 1) - 0.7%
    • Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) - 0.3%
    • Orthoptera (crickets and grasshoppers) - 0.1%
    • unidentified insects (see fig. 3) - 0.2%


  • 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 November.
  • 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 participating.
  • 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.