Photographic survey of the prey-choice of European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster Linnaeus, 1758) in Hungary at three colonies

Open access


Prey choice of European Bee-eaters was monitored via taking pictures of parent birds carrying prey items to their perches in front of the nests between 2011 and 2013 at three colonies in Hungary: at Pócsmegyer, Nagykarácsony and Albertirsa. All the colonies were studied in the breeding season, and prey items were identified from the digital images taken of adults carrying food for their chicks. During the three years 25 days were spent with collecting photographic data, and from the thousands of pictures taken 805 were suitable for analysis. On 775 photographs the prey item was identified at least to order level. Combining data from all the colonies hymenopterans were by far the most often consumed insects (50%), followed by dragonflies (17%), while beetles, orthopterans, lepidopterans and dipterans each contributed approximately 7-9% of the consumed prey. Prey composition showed marked differences between the individual colonies, although the ratio of hymenopterans was everywhere high. Bee-eaters at Pócsmegyer, probably due to the abundance of aquatic habitats nearby on the Danube shore, consumed almost as much dragonflies as hymenopterans, and ate very few orthopterans. While at the Albertirsa colony, surrounded by agricultural fields and meadows in a more arid environment, hymenopterans dominated the prey, and orthopterans were almost as often consumed as dragonflies. Lepidopterans constituted approximately 8% of Bee-eaters’ diet in all colonies. From an insect ecological viewpoint, our study provides valuable data on the species pool that might be at risk of predation by Bee-eaters, and enables us to roughly estimate the predation pressure on some taxa, and in certain cases even on species by these birds.

Brakefield, P. M., Shreeve. T. G. & Thomas, J. A. 1992. Avoidance, concealment, and defence. - In: Dennis, R. L. H. (ed.) The Ecology of Butterflies in Britain, Oxford University Press, Oxford pp. 93-119.

Costa, L. T. 1991. Apiculture and the diet of breeding European Bee-eater Merops apiaster. - Airo 2(2): 34-42.

Dennis, R. L. H., Porter, K. & Williams, W. R. 1986. Ocellation in Coenonympha tullia (Muller) (Lepidoptera, Satyridae). II. Population differentiation and clinal variation in the context of climatically-induced anti-predator defence strategies. - Entomologist’s Gazette 37: 133-172.

Fintha, I. 1968. Megfigyelések a Szamos menti gyurgyalagok (Merops apiaster) fészkelési viszonyairól és táplálkozásáról [Observation about nesting and feeding of European Bee-eaters Merops apiaster breeding along the river Szamos]. - Aquila 75: 93-109. (in Hungarian with German Summary)

Fry, C. H. 1983. Honeybee predation by Bee-eaters, with economic considerations. - Bee World 64(2): 65-78.

Galeotti, P. & Inglisa, M. 2001. Estimating predation impact on Honey Bees Apis mellifera L. by European Bee-eaters Merops apiaster L. - Revue d Ecologie (Terre Vie) 56: 373-388.

Gyovai, F. 1993. Egy dél-alföldi gyurgyalag (Merops apiaster) populáció kor-struktúrája, költés- és táplálkozásvizsgálata [Age structure, breding and foraging biology of Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) in Hungary]. - Ornis Hungarica 3(1): 23-32. (in Hungarian with English Summary)

Herrera, C. M. & Ramirez, A. 1974. Food of the Bee-eater in southern Spain. - British Birds 67: 158-164.

Karáth, K., Fuisz, T. I. & Vas, Z. 2013. Louse (Insecta: Phthiraptera) infestation of European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster Linnaeus, 1758) at Albertirsa, Hungary. - Ornis Hungarica 21(2): 33-37.

Laczik, D. 1996. A gyurgyalag (Merops apiaster) táplálkozási szokásainak és viselkedésének vizsgálata [Study of the foraging and behavior of European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)]. - Diplomamunka, Erdészeti és Faipari Egyetem, Erdőmérnöki Kar, Erdővédelemtani Tanszék, Sopron (in Hungarian)

Larsen, A. 1949. Breeding Bee-Eaters (Merops apiaster L.) on the Island of Bornholm in Denmark. - Dansk Ornith. For. Tidsskr. 43: 129-149.

Lyytinen, A., Brakefield, P. M. & Mappes, J. 2003. Significance of butterfly eyespots as an anti-predator device in ground-based and aerial attacks. - Oikos 100: 373-379.

Matousek, B. 1951. Biology of Bee-eater in Slovakia. - Sylvia 13: 123-125.

Rékási, J. & Haraszthy, L. 2005. Adatok a gyurgyalag (Merops apiaster) táplálkozásához köpetei alapján [Data on the diet of European Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) based on pellet studies]. - Aquila 112: 223-236. (in Hungarian with English Summary)

Shreeve, T., Konvička, M. & Van Dyck, H. 2009. Functional significance of butterfly wing morphology variation. - In:

Settele, J., Shreeve, T., Konvička, M. & Van Dyck, H. (eds.) Ecology of Butterflies in Europe. - Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. pp. 171-188.

Snow, D. W. & Perrins, C. M. 1998. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Concise Edition based on The Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Vol. 1. Non-Passerines. - Oxford University Press, Oxford Stevens, M., Hardman, C. J. & Stubbins, C. L. 2008. Conspicuousness, not eye mimicry, makes ‚eyespots’ effective antipredator signals. - Behavioral Ecology 19: 525-531.

Swift, J. J. 1959. Le Guépier d’Europe Merops apiaster L. en Camargue. - Alauda 27: 97-143.

Urbán, S., Túri, K.,Vas, Z. & Fuisz, T. I. 2013. A successful habitat reconstruction effort, the short history of the European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) colony at Albertirsa (Hungary). - Ornis Hungarica 21(2): 47-51.

Ursprung, J. 1979. Zur Ernahrungbiologie ostösterreichischer Bienenfresser (Merops apiaster). - Egretta 22: 4-17.

Ornis Hungarica

The Journal of MME/BirdLife Hungary

Journal Information

Cited By


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 202 130 5
PDF Downloads 78 63 2