Rainbow Bee-eater

Merops ornatus

Rainbow Bee-eater. Photo: John Gitsham

Rainbow Bee-eaters are seasonal breeding migrants to South Australia. We welcome the return of these colourful, agile fliers from their wintering grounds in northern Australia or the islands of New Guinea and Indonesia in October or November each year. They breed here from November to January before returning to warmer climes.

Rainbow bee-eater. Photo: John Spiers

They are sociable, feeding, nesting and roosting in groups of 20-30 and keeping contact with distinctive rolling calls (“merop-merop”!)

Rainbow Bee-eaters forage by hawking insects, mainly bees and wasps, from horizontal branches to which they return to batter their prey and remove stings.


These bee-eaters are truly rainbow coloured. The back and wing coverts are glossy green with a sky-blue rump. The crown, nape and chin are golden. A broad black eye stripe, edged above and below with turquoise, sets off the bright red eyes. A black gorget divides the golden throat from the golden-green chest, which grades to pale blue-green on the belly. The vent or crissum is sky-blue. The tail feathers blue-black. The rufous underwings of the triangular pointed wings are very noticeable in flight. Male and females are similar but easily distinguishable by differences in the tail streamers. Those of the male are long and thin while those of the female are short and spatulate. Immatures are like adults but lack tail streamers.

Where to find it

Bee-eaters favour sandy soils where they can excavate the metre-long tunnels in which they breed. They may be found in pastures and arable land, open woodlands or creeks and lakes bordered with trees. Look for them anywhere in the state where there are sandy soils outside of wet forests, urban and arid areas.