(1522) Merops apiaster Linn.
THE EUROPEAN BEE-EATER.
Merops apiaster, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed, vol. iv, p. 233.
Within Indian limits the European Bee-eater has been found breeding from all over North-West Frontiers, throughout Kashmir to Kuman and Garhwal to the Punjab.
It may be found breeding almost anywhere above 5,000 feet where there is suitable ground for breeding purposes in open country or in river-banks. Normally the birds breed in colonies, often of great size, in some cases a hundred or more pairs collecting together. Occasionally they do not breed in company. Cock, as quoted by Hume, says : “I found them breeding on the hillsides near Gunderbul in June ; they were not in colonies as M. philippinus, but two or three nests would occur within a short distance of each other.” Buchanan .found large colonies near Gunderbal, and Livesey also found colonies near Srinagar, On the other hand, Davidson found “nests singly along the sides of the hill at Gunderbul,” while Osmaston also took several single nests near Srinagar.
The depth of the burrrow varies according to the soil ; in hard soil such as clay it may be 2 to 4 feet deep, while in soft sandy banks of rivers they may be 6 feet or more. The chamber is large, usually about a foot across and in length and rather less in height. The tunnel is only about 4 to 5 inches in diameter and usually slopes slightly upwards from the entrance.
Undoubtedly most nesting-burrows are made in river-banks, but the birds by no means keep only to these. Burrows have been found on open hill-sides, as stated above, in borrow-pits beside roads, in roadside embankments etc. Hume says that the chamber "at times has a good deal of feather and grass lining.” This seems to be quite exceptional but, especially when a nest-hole is used two years running, there is often a mass of the remains of insects, chiefly Hymenoptera, collected in the chamber, due to the chitinous portions of the insects being discarded as the young are being fed. New nest-holes with only eggs in them rarely have any of these remains or of any kind of grass or feather lining.
The breeding season is very regular, almost all eggs being laid in May and June.
The eggs number five to eight, Hume speaks of the great range in size and variation in shape, but in the hundreds I have seen there has been but little variation in either.
Col. Buchanan took two very remarkable clutches, one of eight and one of five eggs, each containing eggs showing distinct purple* black speckling. In the eight-clutch two eggs have some quite bold spots of purple-black and lavender at the larger end, while one egg has a few lavender specks. In the five-clutch one egg is well marked and one feebly so.
Many years later Col. Ward sent me a large series of eggs taken at the same place near Srinagar, and among these I again found another similarly spotted clutch.
One hundred eggs average 26.6 x 22.4 mm. : maxima 28.7 x 23.1 and 26.7 x 28.8 mm. ; minima 24.1 x 20.0 and 24.8 x 19.9 mm.
Witherby gives the average of one hundred European eggs as 25.6 x 21.8 mm., and remarks that eggs are incubated as laid.
1522. Merops apiaster
(1522) Merops apiaster Linn.