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Bee-eaters are buzzing back

Bee-eaters have again been spotted breeding in Malta after an absence of two years.

Ornithologists Michael Sammut and Natalino Fenech said one pair was confirmed breeding and it might well be that a second pair was also breeding at another locality.

Bee-eaters were confirmed breeding in 2006 by the same two ornithologists at Fawwara.

Two to three pairs bred every year in a disused quarry until 2009, when a pair was noted feeding two fledged young in the vicinity of Dwejra, showing that a pair had bred there too.

No birds were recorded breeding in 2010 or last year. This year, single birds were repeatedly seen in two different localities on several days in June and a nest was finally located on the side of a field.

The bee-eater digs a burrow and breeds in the cavity it digs in the soil or sand.

Both the male and female brood the eggs and feed the young.

The two ornithologists reported that at least one bird was visible in the nest they spotted and it was about to fledge. A curious fact about bee-eaters breeding on the island was that they were hardly vocal at all while, abroad, such birds were very noisy, calling most of the time, even near their nests.

A note about this behaviour was published in the influential journal of the British Trust for Ornithology, British Birds.

Although called bee-eaters, the species feed on a wide range of insects and bees form a small part of their diet. Birds in Malta have been observed feeding mainly on wasps and dragonflies, but also butterflies and small grasshoppers.

It is estimated that of each 10 insects bee-eaters catch, only one is a bee. On migration in September, bee-eaters in Malta have been noted feeding almost exclusively on oak eggars, a kind of moth.

Ornithologist Antonio Schembri had written that bee-eaters were reported to breed at Ramla l-Ħamra about 170 years ago.

Being so colourful, bee-eaters used to be frequently targeted by hunters and were very popular as stuffed specimens.

Many used to be found adorning all kinds of furniture even in houses of people who were not interested in hunting. This practice has, by and large, disappeared, even though some hunters still shot them on migration, the two ornithologists said.

Photos: Natalino Fenech

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