Merops bullockoideswhite-fronted bee-eater

Geographic Range

The white-fronted bee-eater (Merops bullockoides) can be found in southern Africa; more specifically, in the countries of Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbawe. The latitudinal range of the white-fronted bee-eater is bound between the western coasts of Angola and Gabon, and the eastern coasts of Tansania and Mozambique. Its longitudinal range reaches as far north as the southern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and as far south as the northern portion of South Africa. ("Merops bullockoides", 2012; Hegner and Emlen, 2010)


The white-fronted bee-eater typically reside in tropical areas, open grasslands, wooded savannas, and non-heavily forested areas in Southern Africa. Colonies can settle up to 7 kilometers away from foraging areas on vertical cliffs and valleys between 1400 meters and 2000 meters. (Fry and Fry, 1992; Hegner and Emlen, 2010; Hegner, et al., 1982)

  • Range elevation
    1400 to 2000 m
    4593.18 to 6561.68 ft

Physical Description

The white-fronted bee-eater exhibits a relatively small weight and size. In weight, males range between 28 grams and 38 grams; females range between 31 grams and 35 grams. Body length is very similar between sexes, ranging between 21.5 centimeters and 23.5 centimeters. Wingspan is marginally different between sexes with males between 111 millimeters and 121 millimeters; and females between 110 millimeters and 121 millimeters. Color distribution for plumage is as follows; an orange head and torso with a white forehead, a black line across the eye line, a red throat, black-tipped green tail and wings, and blue thighs. The white-fronted bee-eater's bill is long (~3 cm) and downward curved, black in color. (Fry and Fry, 1992; Pagel, 1997)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    28 to 38 g
    0.99 to 1.34 oz
  • Range length
    21.5 to 23.5 cm
    8.46 to 9.25 in
  • Range wingspan
    110 to 121 mm
    4.33 to 4.76 in


The white-fronted bee-eater (Merops bullockides) forms monogamous patrilocal (father-centered) relationships. The species exhibits a cooperative breeding system which is strongly mediated by family structure in which close family members (both male and female) of breeders assist in all steps of the mating process. Helpers assist with digging the nesting site, defense, incubation, and feeding. This system results in a positive correlation between number of helpers and reproductive success for the breeding season. (Emlen, 1990; Wredge and Emlen, 1994; Wrege and Emlen, 1991)

White-fronted bee-eaters breed once every year during a rainy season. For individuals, breeding may occur during the longer April to June season or from November to December. Breeding success for the season is dependent on the number of helpers (on average 2 helpers for every offspring), but range between 2 to 5 eggs. Time to hatching ranges between 20 and 21 days. Upon birth, offspring on average weigh 4.8 grams. Well cared for chicks will fledge at about 29 days, but some offspring can take up to 42 days to undergo fledging. Adults fully plumage by about 6 months, but full independence from parental groups will take an average of 9 months. The age for reproductive maturity is unknown because growth rate is correlated to lack or abundance of food. (Emlen and Wrege, 1991; Wrege and Emlen, 1988; Wrege and Emlen, 1991)

  • Breeding interval
    White-fronted bee-eaters breed once every year during a rainy season.
  • Breeding season
    One of the two rainy seasons in Africa. April to June or November to December.
  • Range eggs per season
    2 to 5
  • Range time to hatching
    20 to 21 days
  • Range fledging age
    42 (high) days
  • Average fledging age
    29 days
  • Average time to independence
    9 months

During incubation, females spend more time in nest. After birth, nestlings are cared for primarily by males. But after fledging, both males and females care for young equally. (Emlen and Wrege, 1991; Fry, 1984; Wredge and Emlen, 1994)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


In a journal published by Stanley Flower in 1938, the average lifespan for individuals of Merops bullockoides held in captivity was determined to be 7 years. (Flower, 1938)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    7 years


The white-fronted bee-eater is a diurnal species, which means their primary activities occur during the day. These activities, nesting and foraging, are completed in groups or clans that the birds form. Mid-day, these clans will fly up to 2 km away from their nesting sites to hunt. On average, the species has 300 of these hunting sessions per day. During nesting season, the flight distance to foraging areas decreases as visitation on the nesting site increases. This is a result of breeder helpers bringing sand and other calcium rich foods for the breeders to consume. (Emlen, 1990; Fry, 1984; Fry and Fry, 1992; Wredge and Emlen, 1994; Wrege and Emlen, 1987)

Communication and Perception

White-fronted bee-eaters communicate both visually and vocally through shaking tail feathers and contact calls. As white-fronted bee-eaters form communities, the presence of these communication tactics are vital to the monogamous relationships that individuals of this species form. (Emlen and Wrege, 1991; Fry and Fry, 1992; Fry, 1984; Wrege and Emlen, 1991)

White-fronted bee-eaters also exhibit nonverbal communication through cooperative breeding wherein smaller males assist larger males during nesting. This kinship role serves to increase the likelihood of producing genetically superior offspring. Helpers are also most likely to assist close genetic relatives. In a study by Stephen Emlen and Peter Wrege in 1988, of 115 experiments in which a helper was presented multiple potential mates, 94% assisted their closest relatives. (Wrege and Emlen, 1988)

Food Habits

As the name suggests, the white-fronted bee-eater is an insectivore. The white-fronted bee-eater primary diet consists of Hymenoptera (87.3%). Species include, honey bees (Apis mallifera) (50%), bees of Trigona (20%), and other Hymenoptera (17%). The other 12.7% of insects include beetles (Coleoptera) (6%), flies (Diptera) (5%), as well as bugs (Heteroptera), moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera), and crickets (Orthoptera). However, accounts exist of the species also eating small fish and regurgitating undigested pellets of fish bones. The white-fronted bee-eater's finessed flying also gives it the ability to feed in the air up to 100 meters in elevation with a 50% to 70% success rate. (Fry, 1984; Fry and Fry, 1992; Larsen, 1992; Pagel, 1997)

While perched, the white-fronted bee-eater rapidly observes it's surroundings looking for prey. To better understand the technique a bee-eater uses to consume a bee, an experiment in which a captivity-raised bee-eater was fed bees was conducted by Dr. Hillary Fry. After 10 attempts, the bee-eater taught itself steps to ensure the bee was safe for consumption; hold the bee behind the thorax, crush the bee's head against a hard object, hold bee by abdomen, rub bee's the stinger on hard object to destroy it, finally twisting the bees head twice over before eating. (Fry, 1984; Hegner, et al., 1982)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • insects


Adult members of the species Merops bullockoides have no prominent predators; but during the embryonic stage this is not the case. Mongooses (Herpestidae), snakes (Serpentes), swifts (Apodidae), and honeyguides (Indicatoridae) will kill embryonic eggs by breaking the shell with their beaks. Predation is primarily focused on nesting sites. Through vocal warning signals, individuals of the species warn the colony of a predator intruding on the nesting site. ("Merops bullockoides", 2012; Emlen and Wrege, 1991; Fry and Fry, 1992; Fry, 1984)

Ecosystem Roles

White-fronted bee-eaters create their own nests and form communities on the vertical faces of cliffs. Nesting sites of white-fronted bee-eaters are preyed-upon primarily by mongooses (Herpestidae), snakes (Serpentes), swifts (Apodidae), as well honeyguides (Indicatoridae). Honeyguides will kill white-fronted bee-eater young and also use their beaks to make holes the shells of eggs. (Emlen, 1990; Emlen and Wrege, 1991; Fry, 1984; Fry and Fry, 1992)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive effects of Merops bullockoides on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Merops bullockoides on humans.

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List lists the status of Merops bullockoides as "least concern". ("Merops bullockoides", 2012)


Mark Jabourian (author), Radford University, Cari Mcgregor (editor), Radford University, Zeb Pike (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, April Tingle (editor), Radford University, Jacob Vaught (editor), Radford University, Genevieve Barnett (editor), Colorado State University.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


BirdLife International. 2012. "Merops bullockoides" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T22683684A40574846. Accessed January 29, 2016 at

Asokan, S., A. Ali, R. Manikannan, P. Radhakrishnan. 2009. Observations on Nest-Sites, Eggs and Nestling Growth Patterns of the Small Bee-Eater Merops Orientalis L. in India. World Journal of Zoology, 4: 163-168.

Emlen, S. 1990. The white-fronted bee-eater: helping in a colonially nesting species. Cooperative breeding in birds: long-term studies of ecology and behavior, 1: 305-339.

Emlen, S., P. Wrege. 1989. A test of alternate hypotheses for helping behaviour in White-fronted Bee-eaters of Kenya. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 25: 303-319.

Emlen, S., P. Wrege. 1991. Breeding Biology of White-Fronted Bee-Eaters at Nakuru: The Influence of Helpers on Breeder Fitness. Journal of Animal Ecology, 60: 309.

Flower, S. 1938. The Duration of Life in Animals-IV. Birds: Special Notes by Orders and Families. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 1: 195-235.

Fry, C. 1984. The Bee-eaters. England: T & A D Poyser.

Fry, C., K. Fry. 1992. Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Rollers: A Handbook. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hegner, R. 1982. Central place foraging in the White-fronted Bee-eater. Animal Behavior, 30: 953-963.

Hegner, R., N. Demong, S. Emlen. 1982. Spatial organization of the white-fronted bee-eater. Nature, 298: 264-266.

Hegner, R., S. Emlen. 2010. Territorial Organization of the White Fronted Bee‐Eater in Kenya. Ethology, 76: 189-222.

Konishi, M., R. Ricklefs, S. Emlen, J. Wingfield. 1989. Contributions of Bird Studies to Biology. Science, 246: 468-72.

Larsen, T. 1992. Temporary prey-specialization on migrant butterflies by bluecheeked bee-eaters. Entomologists' Record and Journal of Variation, 104: 253-255.

Pagel, T. 1997. Experiences Keeping and Breeding the White-Fronted Bee-Eater Merops Bullockoides in the Zoological Garden Cologne. United Kingdom: Avicultural Magazine.

Starck, M. 1998. The Evolutionary Significance of Developmental Plasticity in Growing Birds. Avian Growth and Development: Evolution Within the Altricial-Precocial Spectrum, 1: 288.

Stouffer, P., H. Power. 1991. Brood parasitism by Starlings experimentally forced to desert their nests. Animal Behavior, 41: 537-539.

Wredge, P., S. Emlen. 1994. Family structure influences mate choice in white-fronted bee-eaters. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 35/3: 185-191.

Wrege, P., S. Emlen. 1988. The Role of Kinship in Helping Decisions Among White-Fronted Bee-Eaters. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 23: 305-315.

Wrege, P., S. Emlen. 1987. Biochemical determination of parental uncertainty in white-fronted bee-eaters. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 20: 153-160.

Wrege, P., S. Emlen. 1991. Breeding Seasonality and Reproductive Success of White-Fronted Bee-Eaters in Kenya. The AUK, 108: 673-687.