The blue-cheeked bee-eater (Merops persicus) is a near passerine bird in the bee-eater family, Meropidae. It breeds in Northern Africa, and the Middle East from eastern Turkey to Kazakhstan and India. It is generally strongly migratory, wintering in tropical Africa, although some populations breed and live year round in the Sahel. This species occurs as a rare vagrant north of its breeding range, with most vagrants occurring in Italy and Greece.
This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly-coloured, slender bird. It is predominantly green; its face has blue sides with a black eye stripe, and a yellow and brown throat; the beak is black. It can reach a length of 31 cm (12 in), with the two elongated central tail feathers adding another 7 cm (2.8 in). Sexes are mostly alike but the tail-streamers of the female are shorter.
This is a bird which breeds in sub-tropical semi-desert with a few trees, such as acacia. It winters in open woodland or grassland. As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. However, this species probably takes more dragonflies than any other food item. Its preferred hunting perch is telephone wires if available.
Blue-cheeked bee-eaters may nest solitarily or in loose colonies of up to ten birds. They may also nest in colonies with European bee-eaters. The nests are located in sandy banks, embankments, low cliffs or on the shore of the Caspian Sea. They make a relatively long tunnel of 1 to 3 m (3.3–9.8 ft) in length in which the four to eight (usually six or seven), spherical white eggs are laid. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs, although the female alone incubates them at night. Incubation takes 23–26 days.
The call sounds 'flatter' and less 'fluty' than the European bee-eater.
Two subspecies are recognized:
- Merops persicus persicus - Breeds in Asia, winters in East and Southern Africa
- Merops persicus chrysocercus - Breeds in North Africa, winters in West Africa.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Merops persicus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Fry, Hilary (2001). "Family Meropidae (Bee-eaters)". In del Hoyo, Josep; Elliott, Andrew; Sargatal, Jordi. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 6, Mousebirds to Hornbills. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions. p. 337. ISBN 978-84-87334-30-6.
- Blue-cheeked bee-eater - Species text in The Atlas of Southern African Birds.
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