1528. Melittophagus erythrocephalus erythrocephalus

(1628) Melittophagus erythrocephala erythrocephala (Gmelin).
The Chestnut-headed Bee-eater.
Melittophagus erythrocephalus erythrocephala, Fauna B. I., Birds, 2nd ed. vol. iv, p. 240.
This Bee-eater has a very wide distribution, being found from Ceylon to the Himalayas, where it occurs commonly up to 2,500 and exceptionally up to 4,000 feet. In Eastern India it is not found south of the Godaveri but is common in Eastern Bengal and Assam It is resident over the whole of Burma in suitable localities the Andamans ; South to the Malay Peninsula and East to Yunnan Annam and the Indo-Chinese countries.
The Chestnut-headed Bee-eater is a bird of forested or of well well-wooded open country, and is not one of deserts, sandy wastes or wide cultivated fields, though it does occur in smaller cultivated areas more or Jess surrounded by forest. It is very common in Ceylon breeding up to at least 3,000 feet ; Davison, and others after him, obtained it breeding in the Nilgiris, while Bourdillon, Stewart and others record it as numerous in Travancore, both here and in the Nilgiris about 4,000 feet being the highest elevations. Davidson found it not rare in the Bombay Presidency, North of this it dis¬appears until the Himalayan Terai is reached, when it once more becomes a very common bird, extending in equal numbers to Eastern Assam and in lessening numbers to Eastern Bengal and Orissa.
I have personally seen so great a number of the breeding-tunnels of these birds that my own experience probably covers all there is to say. The birds undoubtedly prefer the banks of, or sandbanks in and beside, rivers and hill-streams. In these they make their burrows and do not seem to mind whether the banks are vertical, shelving or quite flat. The tunnels are generally long ones ; in sandy easy soil they may be up to 7 or 8 feet, and even in com¬paratively hard soil they run up to 4 feet. The longest I have seen was one of 10 feet in firm sand, ending in a normal chamber of about 6 inches, though in some instances the egg-chamber may measure as much as 8 inches. The diameter of the tunnels is about 2 inches or a little over. When made in vertical banks the tunnels for the first 12 inches to 3 fect grade slowly upwards but, when made in flat sand-banks, they descend fairly steeply until they are some 8 or 9 inches below the surface, after which they run parallel with it. There is, of course, no nest of any kind. Many nests in more or less level land get accidentally destroyed, and I have more than once broken through tunnels as I walked along sand-banks, on one occasion actually stepping on the bird on her eggs. Sometimes they breed in small colonies. Davison says that along the “Seegore road leading from the Nilgiris to Mysore ; along 5 or 6 miles of this road the banks are drilled with innumerable holes of this species, sometimes 8 or 10 together, at others scattered singly along the sandy banks of the road.” In Ceylon Parker says that they breed in small colonies and elsewhere ; also they sometimes breed in colonies but, more generally, they breed singly, though many pairs may breed within short distances of one another. In Assam I found that on the big rivers they bred singly but that, when flooded out, as often happens, they then collect and breed in small ravines and forest-streams in colonies of about a dozen pairs.
* Merops viridis Linn, 1766, the name hitherto usually given by older writers to the bird now known as Merops orientalis, may possibly apply to the young of the present bird. There are, however, certain discrepancies and, under the circumstances, I think it is wiser to discard it as indeterminate and continue the use of erythrocephalus, now generally accepted for the present Bee-eater, Robinson applies viridis to sumatranus of Raffles.
The breeding season everywhere is April, a few birds laying in March and a few in May ; when, however, their eggs or the young birds are destroyed by floods they breed again in late May and. even in June.
In Northern India the full clutch is six, but they lay from four to eight, while in Southern India five is perhaps the usual number. In Assam six eggs were laid with curious consistency, certainly in nine cases out of ten.
Two hundred eggs average 21.7 x 19.0 mm. : maxima 23.4 x 20.1 mm. ; minima 20.1 x 19.0 and 20.3 x 17.9 mm.
Both sexes incubate and often the two may be found inside the chamber together. Both, also, assist in digging out tunnel and egg-chamber. They sit very close and generally refuse to move before they are actually touched.

BookTitle: 
The Nidification Of Birds Of The Indian Empire
Reference: 
Baker, Edward Charles Stuart. The nidification of birds of the Indian Empire. Vol. 3. 1934.
Title in Book: 
1528. Melittophagus erythrocephalus erythrocephalus
Spp Author: 
Gmelin
Book Author: 
Edward Charles Stuart Baker
CatNo: 
1528
Year: 
1934
Page No: 
399
Common name: 
Chestnut Headed Bee Eater
M_ID: 
9527
M_SN: 
Merops leschenaulti leschenaulti
Volume: 
Vol. 3
id: 
14670

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