This is the first in a series of articles about my beautiful bird neighbors here in Egypt. I'm not a card carrying member of the Audubon Society, but I really love my bird neighbors, wherever I live. Here in the rural Nile Delta, birds are very different from my friends back home on our farm in South Carolina, USA. Come to think of it, all of my neighbors here are quite different from those in South Carolina! But I'll stick to the birds for now. They are far less sensitive to the strange American Lady with her camera, and I don't have to be quite so stealthy to take their pictures.
This is a Green Bee Eater, or Merops Orientalis. She is a near-passerine bird, meaning tree-dwelling land bird, in the Bee Eater Family. She is not migrational, but travels seasonally, staying in the area once she stops. They can be found in a wide geographical range of Africa from Senegal up through the Egyptian Nile Delta, in western Arabia, and through Asia from India to Vietnam. Found in grasslands and forests, they perch in the trees and feed mainly on insects. Several populations have been designated as subspecies, with "Cleopatra" being the name of the subspecies in my location, with a population that extends from the Nile Delta to Northern Sudan.
These pretty green birds have been catching my eye, and eluding my camera, for almost two years. Finally I caught this nice little beauty unaware while Mohamed and I were preparing new soil to add to our rooftop garden barrels. It was officially winter here at that time, so even though most of the deciduous trees still hadn't lost their leaves, we were catching up on our winter gardening tasks while we had the chance. Perhaps she was watching us more closely than we were imagining.
Two studies by Watve, Thakar, et. al, indicate that Green Bee Eaters may be able to look at a situation from another's point of view. This ability was previously believed by scientists to be possessed only by primates. However, Watve and Thakar note that Green Bee Eaters are able to determine if a nearby human can spot their nest entrance, and thus modify their behavior to avoid actual detection by the human observer. (please find references at the end of this article).
Miss Cleopatra should have felt safe, seeing we were obviously occupied in a harmless activity nearby her perch in the Mulberry, or "Toot" Tree, as it is called in Arabic. We were up on the roof over our garage, preparing the soil, and I spied her up in the tree, flashing bright green in the morning sunshine as she was hunting bugs for breakfast. Launching like a speedy boomerang, she would snap up an insect in midflight, then return back to the same perch to consume her prey. The Green Bee Eater loves bees, wasps, and ants, and I was amazed to learn that she is quite finicky, too, thrashing the body of her prey on her perch repeatedly, and then removing any stinger before swallowing!
Nonchalantly I turned and went downstairs to grab my camera, praying her breakfast of bugs was big today. It was! I was able to set my camera on the fence of the roof to get a few really well focused shots before she felt full enough to leave her place at the mulberry table. Or perhaps she noticed we were no longer interested in her, and returned safely to her nest. What a brilliant bird!
Watve Milind, Thakar J, Kale A, Pitambekar S. Shaikh I Vaze K, Jog M. Paranjape S. (2002). "Bee-eaters (Merops orientalis) respond to what a predator can see".
Smitha, B., Thakar, J. & Watve, M. (1999). "Do bee eaters have theory of mind?". Current Science : 574–577.