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The size and type of prey taken by adult rainbow bee-eaters in the south-west of Australia

Saffer, V.M. and Calver, M.C. (1997) The size and type of prey taken by adult rainbow bee-eaters in the south-west of Australia. Emu, 97 (4). pp. 329-332.

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Bee-eaters are known to ‘… have an astonishingly narrow spectrum of [prey] preference, in effect, for most of them, only honeybees and social wasps’ (Fry 1984). Their predilection for honeybees (Apis spp.) has, in fact, led to conflict with apiarists (Lamothe 1979). However, they also are known to be opportunistic, exploiting transient foods (Fry 1984). The Rainbow Bee-eater Merops ornatus is no exception to these generalisations: Lea & Grey (1935) found hymenopteran remains in all the gizzards of 11 adult Rainbow Beeeaters they examined; Serventy & Whittell (1976) reported that hymenopterans comprised 63% of the 2753 head capsules retrieved from a single nest chamber excavated near Perth; and Calver et al. (1987) found that 95% of prey recovered from nest chambers on Rottnest Island, Western Australia, were hymenopterans. However, Rainbow Bee-eaters also have been observed feeding opportunistically on butterflies (Draffan et al. 1983), while Fry (1984) reported personal communications stating that moths, large flies, dragonflies and damselflies (odonatans) are fed to nestlings and that odonatans are the principal food for the young in Victoria. Barker & Vestjens (1989) also listed a wide range of arthropods and a single amphibian identified in the oesophagus or gizzard of Rainbow Bee-eaters but did not indicate the relative proportions of prey taken. Less is known of the preferred size range of prey for bee-eaters. Estimations have been made of the size of prey fed to nestlings (e.g. Hegner 1982 (Merops bullockoides), Krebs & Avery 1984 (Merops apiaster)), and Calver et al. (1987) determined the size of prey fed to nestling Rainbow Bee-eaters from measurements of prey remains. Helbig (1982, cited in Fry 1984) claimed that bee-eaters select prey of particular sizes and types, but we have been unable to locate data on the size of prey taken by adult Rainbow Bee-eaters in Australia. This paper reports data on the size of prey recovered from pellets regurgitated by adult Rainbow Bee-eaters at two widely separated sites in the south of Western Australia.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Copyright: (c) Birds Australia
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