Merops apiaster, Linn. Syst Nat. i. p. 182 (1766) ; Naum. v. p. 462, Taf. 143, figs. 1, 2 ; Hewitson, i. p. 254, pl. lxiv. fig. 2 ; Gould, B. of E. ii. pl. 59 ; id. B. of Gt. Brit. ii. pl. 9 ; Newton, ii. p. 435 ; Dresser, v. p. 155, pl. 295 ; id. Monogr. Merop. p. 75, pl. 18 ; Sharpe, Cat. B. Br. Mus. xvii. p. 63 ; Blanf. F. Brit. Ind. Birds, iii p. 113 ; Saunders, p. 283 ; Lilford, ii. p. 16, pl. 7.
Guepier vulgaire, French ; Abelharuco, Melharuco, Portug. ; Abejaruco, Span. ; Gruccione, Ital. ; Bienenfresser, German ; Bioeder, Dan. ; Biatare, Swed. ; Tschur, Russ. ; Memuna, Arab. ; El Leecamoon, Moor.
Male ad. (Spain). Head, neck, and upper Lack deep chestnut, fading into pale chestnut on the lower back and rump, and into Isabelline on the scapulars ; forehead and supercilium white tinged with blue green ; upper surface of wings green, the wing-coverts chestnut ; upper tail-coverts pale green ; tail greenish grey, the middle feathers elongated and tinged with olive ; a line below the eye enclosing the ear-coverts, and another across the lower throat deep black ; chin, throat, and cheeks golden yellow ; rest of the under parts greenish cobalt, paler behind ; bill black ; legs pale reddish brown ; iris carmine red. Culmen 1.6, wing 6.l,tail 5.0, tarsus 0.4 inch. Female similar but duller.
Hab. Southern Europe, rarer in the central and northern parts ; of accidental occurrence in Scandinavia, Great Britain, and Ireland ; Canaries, Madeira, and Africa ; Asia Minor and Asia as far east as the Punjab, Baluchistan, and Sind, and the Irtish river in the north.
Gregarious at all seasons and frequents rivers and plains. In its flight it resembles the Swallow, but is not so active and swift. It feeds on insects of various kinds, bees, wasps, grass¬hoppers, locusts, beetles, &c., which it both captures on the wing and picks off trees, bushes, and plants. It usually breeds in the banks of rivers or streams, but sometimes far from water, and burrows a long round hole ending in a chamber about a foot in diameter. I have found their nest-holes burrowed in flat ground away from water. The eggs 5 to 6 in number are usually deposited in May or June, and are placed on the refuse in the nest-chamber, no nest being made. The eggs are roundish, pure glossy white, and measure about 1.2 by 0.9. The usual cry of this bird is harsh and monotonous, but when on the wing it utters a pleasant, subdued, warbling chirp.
666. Merops apiaster