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Carmine Bee-eaters (Merops nubicus & M. nubicoides) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development

Reproductive System

Breeding biology not well-studied


  • Live in very large colonies
    • May include hundreds or thousands of birds


Aerial pursuits common

  • Birds display near nesting time

Male offers "gifts" to female

  • Copulation may follow female receiving an insect gift from male


Nest in cliff face

  • Tunnel into cliff to build a nest
    • Tunnels sometimes excavated 3-4 months before laying time (when ground is soft after rainy season) (Fry 1984)
    • Both sexes help dig burrows (Ryan 2009)
    • Nest placement
      • Typically higher on the cliff face though at time dug at ground level
      • Nest located on flat ground in Lake Turkana Basin and along the Niger River (Fry 1984)
    • Tunnel dimensions
      • 1-2 m (3.3-6.6 ft) long
    • Nest chamber
      • Not lined with cushioning material, thus broken eggs are common (Fry 1984)
  • Nest density
    • 60 holes/m2
  • Nest longevity
    • Same cliff face may be used for many generations

Egg Laying

Behavior prior to laying

  • Birds in a colony known to "panic"
    • Birds fly rapidly away from cliff nest holes (from Fry 1984)
      • The cause of this behavior is not known
    • Observations of behavior occurring shortly before egg laying begins

Clutch size

  • 2-3 usually
    • Up to 5 eggs possible
    • Larger clutches produced at higher altitudes (Fry 1984)


  • Duration
    • 20-21 days, based on records from managed care (Elston et al. 2007)
  • Brooding
    • Females sit on the nest for longer periods than than males


  • Chicks hatch 1-3 days apart
    • Strong size difference in nestlings

Intraspecific nest parasitize

  • Carmine Bee-eaters will take one another's nests
    • Females remove eggs of the original inhabitant

Life Stages


  • Care
    • Both parents provide food
      • Father feeds the nestlings more often than does the mother
      • Some reports of "helpers"
        • Unknown whether or not Carmine Bee-eaters have helpers at the nest in the wild (Elston et al 2007)
        • Some reports of possible helpers in Southern Carmines' nests (Ryan 2009)


  • Fledge after 23-30 days (Brooke et al. 1991)
  • Care
    • Parents provision young for up to 6 weeks after fledging (Fry 1984)
    • Parents once observed attempting to dig young out of a landslide that destroyed their nest (Fry 1984)


  • Plumage
    • Achieve adult plumage at c. 6 months


Typical longevity

  • c. 7 years

May survive many years in managed care

  • Female survived over 17 years, San Diego Zoo (ZIMS 2015)



Nest predation

  • Monitor lizards carry off chicks from burrows

Killed by humans

  • Targeted for their colorful feathers or as a food source (Ryan 2009)
  • Many bee-eaters killed by agriculturists who believe they are a threat to bee hives (Fry 2001)

Southern Carmine Bee-eaters

southern carmine bee-eaters in flight

Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides) in northwestern Botswana.

Image credit: © Tarique Sani from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Brooke et al (1991)
Elston et al (2007)
Fry (1984)
Ryan (2009)

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