Rainbow Bee-eaters return

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Early October heralds the return to the Perth area of one of Australia’s most colourful birds, the Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus). This bird, with its striking plumage of green, blue, orange and black, is a familiar site in the woodlands around Perth during the late spring and early summer as it undergoes its annual breeding cycle.

The Rainbow Bee-eater is one of the few Australian birds that nest in a burrow. It breeds in open areas with friable, sandy soil, good visibility and convenient perches (Boland, 2004). As a result of nesting in burrows they are susceptible to many forms of disturbance as well as predation by dingoes, foxes, goannas and cane toads (Boland, 2004). They will also regularly use disturbed sites such as quarries, gravel pits, roadside cuttings and mullock heaps in which to nest.

It is a widespread bird throughout Australia, although it is absent from the central deserts and from Tasmania (Higgins, 1999). Rainbow bee-eaters are migratory with birds moving south for the summer to breed and returning north to over-winter in northern Australia, Indonesia and southern New Guinea (Johnstone and Storr, 1998). Many northern populations are considered resident.

The Rainbow Bee-eater was previously listed as a migratory species on the EPBC Act 1999 but was removed in mid-2016. It is still listed under Schedule 5 of the Department of Parks and Wildlife threatened species lists, however, this is likely to be revised in November 2016 when the revised WA Gazette is released. If you see the Rainbow Bee-eater or its characteristic nest burrows, please give it some space and observe from a short distance.

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Thanks to Ray Turnbull for drafting this post.

Images – top: Rainbow Bee-eater (Merops ornatus) credit – Ray Turnbull; bottom: Rainbow Bee-eater burrow

References

Boland, C,R,J. 2004. Breeding biology of Rainbow Bee-eaters (Merops ornatus): a migratory, colonial, cooperative bird. Auk 121: 811-823.

Higgins, P.J. 1999. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, vol. 4: Parrots to Dollarbirds. Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia.

Johnstone, R.E. and Storr, G.M. 1998. Handbook of Western Australian Birds. Volume 1 – Non-Passerines (Emu to Dollarbird). Western Australian Museum.

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