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Northern Carmine Bee-eater

Bee-eaters and Rollers in East Africa

Rollers and Bee-eaters are families in the order – Coraciiformes together with Kingfishers, Motmots and Todies. The 2 last are not in Africa. Most are colourful birds. Another characteristic is that syndactyly feet which means that toe 3 and 4 are fused together. This enlarges the sole surface and may reinforce adherence with the substrate. Feet in birds and mammals are adapted to their lifestyle.

Family Coraciidae – Rollers

This family is found in the old world. The name rollers was given to them because of their aerial acrobatics some of them perform during courtship.

The family Coraciidae has 2 genus: Eurystomus and Coracias. Coracium is a Greek word and means” like a raven”. Eurystomus species catch their prey in flight while Coracias hit them on the ground.

Rollers are colourful birds of medium seize and often pose very nicely for photographers in the open.  Their main diet are insects. They have a strong beak with a little hook at the tip. Some are residents, some migrants within Africa or like the European Roller from Europe during the North winter.

Both parents raise the 2 – 4 chicks. They don’t build a nest, but use holes in trees or rocks.

Bee-eaters – Family Meropidae

3 genus and 30 species are in this family of Bee-eaters. In Africa you find the genus Merops. They are colourful birds with a curved long bill. Their seize varies from small to medium. Bee-eaters perch and catch insects on the ground but mainly hunt them in the air and mostly go back to the same branch. They are known to feed on insects with a sting. By hitting and rubbing them on a hard surface they remove the sting with the venom and then swallow the body. They also catch fast flying dragon flies. Still they hit them on a hard surface despite they don’t have a sting.

Bee-eaters are found in Africa, Europe, Australia and New Guinea. Many Bee-eater species are gregarious. They nest in holes in horizontal walls with soft sand. It is a spectacle on its own to watch them in large numbers hunting, going into the hole, perching and flying. They can also be observed taking a dust bath in large numbers. Most species are monogamous and both parents care for the offspring.

To give you as actual information as possible we use Avibase, the books “Birds of Africa South of the Sahara”, “Birds of East Africa”, “Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania”. Then we put the most characteristic information to the photo.

You can also follow us on Facebook “Bird photography Safaris Kenya” and see the numerous species as well as the beautiful photos from Lorenzo Barelli.

Click on the photo for larger view. The names of the photographers are on the photo and in the text. Without the generosity of several amazing bird photographers it had not been possible to create the pages with so many illustrated bird species. Those photos without name are from Elvira Wolfer.

Here you find samples of our birding safaris. Since most of the species here have a wide distribution range you can find many of them during most of our tours. To find a particular species or subspecies we will advise you on the most suitable itinerary.

Since most Bee-eaters and some Rollers migrate, we have to time well for your safari.

Broad-billed Roller (Eurystomus glaucurus) the larger nominate form is a non breeding visitor from Madagascar. The most common is the subspecies suahelicus left, in Uganda and Western Kenya you find the subspecies afer (Ruma National Park). Habitat: savanna and forested areas up to 2.200 m. Photo left by Per Holmen

Blue-throated Roller (Eurystomus gularis neglectus) is a rather uncommon forest bird below 1.800 m in S Nigeria, Uganda and Angola. Photo Per Holmen, Semliki National Park

Purple or Rufous-crowned Roller (Coracias n. naevius) is resident and IA migrant, but not a common species. The nominate form is found in bushed grassland with rocky areas and tall trees in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and N Tanzania. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

European Roller (Coracias garrulus garrulus and paler semenovi) is a common palearctic migrant to South of the Sahara from September to April. It is found in savanna. They are usually silent in Africa.

Abyssinian Roller (Coracias abyssinicus) is found in Northern Kenya and Northern Uganda to Western Africa. They inhabit arid savannas. Resident and nomadic. Photo Marina Meger

Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias c. caudatus) is found from Southern to East Africa in savanna. The subspecies lorti occurs in Ethiopia, Somalia, Lake Turkana and NE Kenya. Not every individuum has the same strong colouration

Racket-tailed Roller (Coracias spatulatus weigalli) prefers tall woodland especially Miombo Woodland. It is found in Tanzania, Angola and Mozambique. Photo Per Holmen

Blue-headed Bee-eater (Merops muelleri) is found in East Africa in Kakamega forest and in Western Africa. It is one of the forest Bee-eaters. Photo Jacques Pitteloud

Black Bee-eater (Merops gularis australis) is a forest species of Nigeria, N Angola but also found in Western Uganda. Photo Marina Meger, Uganda

Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides) is found in East Africa in SW Tanzania. They are residents and migrants. Habitats: woodland, savanna and flood plains. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Northern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicus) is found from East Africa, Horn of Africa to West Africa. They are residents and IA migrants. Breeding is like nubicoides in colonies in river banks. They are found in savannas and often hunt insects near herbivores.

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater (Merops hirundineus heuglini) occurs in semi deserts, scrub land to forest edges. This subspecies is found in S Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda and DRC. Photo Per Holmen

African green Bee-eater (Merops v. viridisimus) occurs in savanna from Senegal to Eritrea, Ethiopia, W Sudan and from August to September in NE Uganda. Photo Marina Meger

Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus meridionalis) has its range from Congo Basin to Western Kenya. They live in savanna and perch on low branches. Masai Mara

Little Bee-eater (Merops pusillus cyanostictus) is found from E Ethiopia, Somalia and Central to Eastern Kenya. Samburu. The 3rd race in East Africa ocularis is a N Ugandan bird and is much paler.

Blue-breasted Bee-eater (Merops variegatus loringi) is found in Western Kenya, Uganda, SE Nigeria and Cameroon. They live in long grass savanna. In extreme Western Tanzania occurs the subspecies , in Somali lafresnayi which inhabits montane forest edges up to 3.200 m. Photo Per Holmen

Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eater (Merops oreobates) is endemic to highland forests in East Africa from 1.500 to 2.500 m. They are locally common residents and altitudinal migrants. They perch higher up than Little Bee-eaters.

African green Bee-eater (Merops v. viridissimus) is found in savanna of Senegal and Eritrea, Ethiopia, W Sudan and N Uganda. Photo Marina Meger

Böhm’s Bee-eater (Merops boehmi) is fairly common but localised in broad-leaved forests E and W Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. Photo Per Holmen

Somali Bee-eater (Merops revoilii) is an inhabitant of arid and semi-arid bushland from Somalia, W Ethiopia to N and E Kenya (but not coast). Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Red-throated Bee-eater (Merops bulocki frenatus) is found in DRC, NW Uganda and W Ethiopia in savanna often near water below 1.000 m. Photo Marina Meger

White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides) is locally common along slow moving rivers with tall steep sand banks in Central and SW Kenya, N Tanzania and other countries.

White-throated Bee-eater (Merops albicollis) is a common gregarious IA migrant in semi-arid regions (moister when breeding) from East to West Africa.

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (Merops p. persicus) is a migrant from Egypt to Lake Balkhash and Hindu Kush. They are present South of the Sahara from October to April. In East Africa the nominate form is found in grassland and bushland below 1.500 m often near water.

Madagascar (Olive) Bee-eater (Merops s. superciliosus) is a common resident and migrant from Madagascar and Comoro Islands. Gregarious. Habitat: bushed and wooded country often near water up to 2.300 m.

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) is a migrant from Europe to South Saharan Africa from August to February. They move in groups and hunt in the air as well as from branches. They are found in various open habitats.