Rollers & Bee-eaters

Photographed in situ [1]

A lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) lands next to her chick to offer a freshly-caught alate termite. Initially we passed by the juvenile perched just a few meters away and spooked it up to a dead lichenose branch. I was struck by how colorful the bird was, almost kingfisher-like in appearance with magenta and neon blue hues. Just as I thought there couldn’t be a bird more colorful, the mother presented herself, showing off her long forked-tail and thick black ventral wing margin. Rollers belong to the family Coraciidae and order Coraciiformes — the latter includes bee-eaters, kingfishers, and motmots. Rollers are mostly insectivorous, diving from a selected perch to intercept insect prey. I’ve seen similar strategies in several species of kingfishers and kookaburras as well. Hopefully I’ll be able to see their foraging behavior firsthand over the next few months!

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Photographed after pursuit [3]

Two cinnamon-chested bee-eaters (Merops oreobates) sit atop a tree scanning their surroundings for the opportune moment to lock in on insect prey. This species is one of four bee-eaters at Mpala, all of which almost entirely forage on flying insects. Much like rollers, they will carefully select a high perch, suddenly darting to precisely snatch an insect mid-air with their slender curved beaks. Potentially harmful prey items such as bees and wasps are bashed and squeezed prior to ingestion, removing much of the venom. Bee-eaters are very social, often found in pairs or together in large roosts. Many species will exhibit a courtship behavior in which the male bows to present a female with a prey item.


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