bee-eater, any of the brightly colored, insect-eating birds of the family Meropidae. They range in length from 6 to 14 in. (15–36 cm). The plumage of many species is predominantly green but usually includes a variety of other bright colors. Many species have a black stripe running from the eye to the base of the long, sharp bill. They are found throughout the tropical and warm-temperate Old World but are most numerous in the tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Some species are migratory, and the few that breed in temperate areas, such as Merops apiaster, the common, or European, bee-eater, winter in the tropics. Most of the Meropidae are gregarious, and the birds of some species travel in flocks of hundreds or thousands of individuals. The nests of most species are colonial burrows, excavated in the sand of riverbanks or road grades. Bee-eaters catch insects on the wing; they subsist primarily upon bees and wasps. They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Coraciiformes, family Meropidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.