Imagine the idea of eating bees; it may seem peculiar, but in various indigenous communities worldwide, it’s not an uncommon practice. People usually target honey bees without stingers and bee larvae, sometimes opting for wasps and other bee types. Interestingly, bee consumption is more prevalent in the animal kingdom, particularly among specific bird species.

Various birds enjoy feasting on bees, such as thrushes, kingbirds, swifts, mockingbirds, and woodpeckers. Woodpeckers have a preference for carpenter bee and leafcutter bee larvae. While most of these birds are opportunistic bee-eaters, some bird species specialize in bee hunting and regularly incorporate them into their diet. Let’s explore the fascinating world of these unique birds that opt for bees as a food source.

5: Honey Buzzard

The honey buzzard is a large bird that belongs to the Accipitridae family, which includes various species of hawks, eagles, kites, and vultures. This bird has several species, such as the European honey buzzard and the crested or Oriental honey buzzard. Also known as the pern or the common pern, it showcases more similarities with kites than with buzzards from the Buteo genus.

European honey buzzards can be found across Central, Northern Europe, and Eurasia, while they spend winters in Sub-Saharan Africa. The crested honey buzzard’s breeding habitat stretches from China to Japan, and they spend winters in Southeast Asia. The honey buzzard usually measures 20 to 24 inches in length, with a wingspan ranging from 53 to 59 inches. These birds display a long tail and a short head crest, while their color can vary from light to dark brown with white markings.

As carnivores, honey buzzards consume a diverse range of prey, including small insects like cicadas, small rodents, reptiles, and birds. However, they are specialists when it comes to feeding on bees. They predominantly eat larvae of wasps, hornets, and bees. These birds spend most of their time searching for hives in the wooded habitats they reside in.

When a honey buzzard locates a hive, it utilizes its long talons to break apart the honeycomb and access the larvae and beeswax inside. It is believed that their feathers consist of a chemical deterrent that helps to ward off potential bee attackers. Furthermore, the feathers on their head and around their eyes possess hard and scaly features. This unique adaptation provides additional protection against the stingers of any attackers that may bypass their chemical deterrent.

4: Northern Cardinal

The Northern Cardinal, often referred to as the redbird or simply cardinal, is a member of the Cardinalidae family of songbirds. This bird is easily identifiable by its vibrant red hue and prominent crest on the male’s head. Their habitat stretches from Canada down to Guatemala, covering eastern parts of the United States such as Maine, as well as western states like Texas and Minnesota. Furthermore, some non-native populations reside in Hawaii and Bermuda.

These striking creatures can be found in various environments such as woodlands, gardens, brushy scrublands, and wetland areas. Exhibiting a highly territorial behavior, male Northern Cardinals produce a loud, unique whistle to caution other males to stay away. As is the case with many songbirds, they are known to mate for life. Due to the Migratory Bird Treaty act, it is no longer legal to traffic Northern Cardinals as pets.

Their diet is diverse and adapts depending on the season. In the summertime, they mainly consume insects like flies, beetles, butterflies, crickets, grasshoppers, worms, snails, and slugs. Northern Cardinals are also known to eat bees, occasionally attacking hives and consuming the adult bees. This behavior is particularly prominent during the breeding season when they require increased protein intake. In colder months, their dietary preferences shift toward grains, seeds, fruits, and berries.

Given their varied diet, Northern Cardinals tend to forage for the most easily accessible food source. If a bee hive is nearby, they may target it unless a more convenient option, such as animal fat suet or a bird feeder, is available.

#3: The Majestic Purple Martin

The Purple Martin, North America’s largest swallow, belongs to the Hirundinidae family which includes swallows, martins, and saw-wings. They can reach up to 7.9 inches in length and have a wingspan of about 16 inches. Mostly residing in the western United States, there are also small populations along the Pacific coast, southern Canada, and parts of Mexico. During winter, these birds migrate to South America, settling in countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Bolivia.

These stunning birds possess a distinctive all-black appearance with a glossy blue sheen, which, under certain lighting conditions, makes them appear blue or purple. Male and female Martins work together to select nesting sites, building their nests in cavities in trees or other structures. Regrettably, their population has been declining due to nesting site competition from invasive European starlings.

Purple Martins are known for their agility and acrobatic hunting skills. They primarily feed on winged insects like dragonflies, flies, fire ants, and wasps. Among their diet, they are also known to be prolific bee-eaters if they manage to catch them in large quantities. Their hunting technique, called hawking, involves fast wing flapping and intricate gliding patterns to catch prey mid-flight. Furthermore, their ability to snatch prey while diving showcases their remarkable prowess as hunters.

2: Scarlet and Summer Tanager

Scarlet and Summer Tanagers are medium-sized, vibrant songbirds native to both North and South America. Although they were once classified as part of the Tanager family, Thraupidae, they have since been reclassified under the Cardinal family, Cardinalidae.

Summer Tanagers can be found breeding in the central and southern United States as well as northern Mexico, and they spend their winters in South and Central America. On the other hand, Scarlet Tanagers primarily inhabit the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, with their winter homes also located in South America. The natural habitats of these birds include deciduous forests and woodlands near suburban neighborhoods and parks.

In terms of appearance, both species measure slightly over 7 inches in length and have wingspans ranging from 10 to 12 inches. They closely resemble Northern Cardinals, displaying bright red feathers on their breasts and backs, but without the black face mask seen on Cardinals.

The primary food source for Scarlet and Summer Tanagers consists of flying insects, though they also eat fruits and berries. Their diets include various insects such as ants, sawflies, moths, beetles, flies, grasshoppers, dragonflies and cicadas. Notably, they have a particular affinity for bees and wasps, which make up a significant portion of their diets.

These Tanagers have a unique feeding behavior called sallying, where they fly out from a perch to catch a bee or wasp mid-air, then return to the same general area to consume their prey. When capturing a bee, wasp, or hornet, Summer Tanagers meticulously remove the insect’s stinger by rubbing it against the ground, ensuring a safe and enjoyable meal.

1: Bee-eater

Bee-eaters are fascinating birds well-known for their bee-eating habits. These beautiful creatures make up the Meropidae family, consisting of three genera and 27 unique species. They can be found across various parts of Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia, and are known for their striking, colorful plumage, long tail feathers, and hooked bills.

These birds prefer temperate climates and are known for their elaborate tunnel systems within sandbanks. Bee-eaters live in groups, sometimes with hundreds of members, and exhibit strong social behaviors. Males and females form lifelong bonds and share the responsibilities of parenting. In some species, community parenting is observed, where birds help care for their relatives’ offspring.

As suggested by their name, bee-eaters have a diet mainly consisting of bees and wasps, which make up around 70% of their food intake. The rest of their diet is predominantly comprised of other flying insects. To catch their prey, bee-eaters wait on a perch and swoop down on their target as soon as it becomes visible. With their remarkable eyesight, some species can spot a bee from as far as 330 feet away.

Once they’ve caught their prey, they might consume it while flying or return to an open perch. In case they catch a large bee or wasp, they have a unique way to neutralize its venom and stinger, by smashing it on the ground and rubbing it off before eating. This amazing adaptation allows them to safely indulge in their bee-eating habits without harm.

In conclusion, bee-eaters are fascinating birds with their captivating appearance, interesting behavior, and unique adaptations that have earned them their name. Their diet, consisting mainly of bees and wasps, showcases their special role in the ecosystem and their remarkable way of life.

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