The Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater

Swallow-tailed bee-eater in South Africa

A Flash of Colour During Your African Safari

The swallow-tailed bee-eater is a delight for birdwatchers from across the globe. It’s a common African semi-migratory species and easy to spot thanks to its striking colours.

All bee-eaters belong to the Meropidae family which includes 27 species and 3 genera. Most of these birds occur in Africa and Asia and all of them have long down-turned bills, slender bodies, long wings, and elongated central tail feathers.

The swallow-tailed bee-eaters’ call is a quiet ‘chirrup’ sound often uttered in chorus by two or more birds.


This gorgeous medium-sized bird has a deeply forked blue tail and a green body, with a patch of yellow on the throat. A blue collar divides the throat and breast.

The bird has the typical black eye stripe and turquoise spot above the eye of the bee-eaters. Immature birds are a little less colourful but still easily identified by their distinctive tail shape.

Male and female birds are identical and usually reach a length of 20 to 22 cm.

Social Structure of the Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater

Outside of the breeding season, swallow-tailed bee-eaters form small flocks of up to ten individuals. They roost communally at night, huddling together on a sandy bank, or on a single perch, which they also use for hunting and feeding.

During the breeding season, pairs of birds nest together.

Foraging Habits

Swallow-tailed bee-eaters capture their prey on the wing, swooping out from concealed tree perches. They return to the bough to enjoy the results of the hunt.

As their name suggests, bees make up a large part of their diet. The bee-eater kills the insect and removes its sting by hitting it against a branch. They also eat other flying insects like wasps, hornets, beetles, and dragonflies.

Lifecycle of the Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater

During the breeding season, from October to February, the male and female swallow-tailed bee-eaters raise their young together. They dig a tunnel into an inclined sandbank or aardvark hole, where the female lays between two and four eggs directly on the sand. The eggs hatch within ten days.

The greater honeyguide is known to parasitize bee-eater nests, often breaking the host’s eggs when laying her own, and reptiles may raid the nest to steal the eggs.

Little is known about bee-eater fledgeling birds as it’s impossible to observe them in their subterranean nests, but the parents do bring a steady stream of insects for them to eat. They emerge from the nest after about 30 days and reach maturity by the next breeding season.

Most bee-eaters live for around six years.

Where to see Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eaters

Swallow-tailed bee-eaters are flexible when it comes to habitat and you may see them in southern Namibia, in both semi-desert scrublands and along the edges of lush forests.

You may also come across this species while visiting most central and southern African countries.

Namibia’s game reserves and national parks all offer excellent bird and wildlife spotting opportunities, but you can also see fine specimens in Windhoek at the outset of your stay.

The city offers many green spaces where bee-eaters congregate including the National Botanical Garden, Parliament Gardens, and in the lush environment of Arebbusch Travel Lodge. It’s the perfect place to start working on your Namibian bird list during your stay.

Enjoy Birdwatching During Your Namibian Trip

Namibia is one of the world’s best destinations for safaris, sightseeing, and adrenaline-packed adventures.

Would you like to find out more about making the most of your African journeys? Keep browsing our travel blog.

Please Note: The details shared herein were correct at the time of publishing. However, with time some of this information may change. We recommend confirming information with suppliers prior to making final travel arrangements. If you do happen to find an issue with any information we’ve shared here, please feel free to contact us so that we can make the relevant changes.


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