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

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Abstract

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.

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