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

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

carmine bee-eater

Northern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicus)

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.


Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Describer (Date): Gelin, 1788

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Coraciiformes

Family: Meripodae

Genus: Merops

Species: Merops nubicus — Northern Carmine Bee-eater

Species: Merops nubicoides — Southern Carmine Bee-eater

Body Weight:
Northern, M. nubicus: 34-59 g (1.2-2.1 oz)
Southern, M. nubicoides: 44.5-66 (1.60-2.3 oz)

Body Length: 24-27 cm (9.5-11 in) (both species)

Plumage: Brilliant pink and blue; black mask; streamers up to 12 cm (4.8 in)

Beak: Black,moderately long, sharp-pointed, downwards curved

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Range: Tropical savannas of Africa; two species widely separated in central and southern Africa

Habitat: Tropical, well-watered, warm bushy and woody savannas; river
flood-plains (including farmed areas and open pastures); cliff-faces for nesting

IUCN Status: Least Concern (both species)

CITES Appendix: not listed

Populations in the Wild: Unknown; 1980s rough estimate of 5 million individuals (both species combined)

Migration: Complex three-part annual cycle between higher and lower latitudes for feeding, breeding, nesting

Activity Cycle: Diurnal. After dawn, emerge from nest burrows; perch, preen, and fly as clan groups to feed. Return in late afternoon to socialize and preen; enter burrows for night.

Social Groups: Very gregarious. Form huge breeding colonies with up
to 1,000 nests in cliff faces.

Diet: Consume many species of flying insects, especially bees and bee-predators.

Predators: Monitor lizards rob nests. Humans kill birds for their feathers and because they believe these birds pose a threat to bee hives.

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Courtship: Aerial pursuits common before nesting time; copulation may
follow gift to female from male. Thought to be monogamous.

Clutch Size: 2-3 eggs; rarely up to 5

Nest: Usually dug in cliffs; occasionally nest on level ground

Hatchlings: Born blind and naked (altricial) 1-3 days apart; extreme size differences in chicks

Fledgling: 23-30 days; fed for another 6 weeks

Typical Life Expectancy:
Wild populations: about 7 years

Featured Facts

  • Often hunts insects by riding on the backs of bustards, storks, heron, cranes, sheep, goats, camels, zebra, wart hogs, and antelope; watch for flushed insects
  • Attracted to edges of fire, where insects flee; earned them a name meaning "cousin to the fire" among the Mandinka people of West Africa
  • Live in huge colonies when breeding
  • Breeding males may offer insects as courtship "gift" to female
  • Migratory path may follow that of locusts
  • Killed by humans for feathers, food, or by farmers who belive bee-eaters are a threat to bee hives
  • San Diego Zoo was the first North American zoo to breed Carmine and White-fronted Bee-eaters.

About This Fact Sheet

© 2010-2018 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Updated March 2010. IUCN Status, Body Measurements, Threats to Survival updated Jun 2018.

How to cite: Carmine Bee-Eaters (Merops nubicus & M. nubicoides) Fact Sheet. c2010-2018. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. carminebee-eater. (note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2014 Sep 15)

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to

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