Fascinating Asian green bee-eater

An Asian green bee-eater. The photo was taken from Sonadia island in Cox's Bazar's Moheshkhali upazila.MA Sadek

Coming out of the betel leaf plantation, the baby monitor lizard (guishap) climbed down the slope of the canal. It was about 23 centimeters long. Its whole body seemed to be colourfully painted by an artist. It wouldn’t have been more than three to four days since the baby lizard hatched.

Seeing the baby, a couple of Asian green bee-eater birds dived down, screeching, attacking the lizard on its head and back. The scared baby lizard run off swiftly and jumped into the canal.

The nest of the Asian green bee-eater couple was buried on the steep canal-slope. There must have been eggs or babies in the nest otherwise these birds of timid nature wouldn’t have been so aggressive. Monitors are known to dig into ditches and devour eggs and baby birds.

The Asian green bee-eater couple might be unaware that up till 15 to 20 days after birth, baby monitors eat nothing but insects, just like the Asian green bee-eater birds, whose staple food is insects. Bees, wasps and winged termites are their favourites. If they get the chance, they drink date juice too.

Some of us witnessed this interesting incident, sitting on a culvert by the canal in my village on 6 March afternoon. All of us on the spot were familiar with the bird. In fact, this tiny and lovely bird is known to almost all the people living in our villages.

Many people have watch the way they dig burrows in the earth as well. Asian green bee-eaters make a burrow in the same way a field rat digs tunnels in paddy fields or elsewhere.

At first, the couple selects a suitable spot. Then they shape the entrance of the hole. The deeper it gets, the more arduous it becomes to dig. They dig out the soil from inside the burrow, pushing it out with their beaks and breast.

They keep the burrow entrance narrow so only they can manage to enter. Rats, snakes, monitors, wild crows, Indian magpies or cuckoos cannot easily invade the burrows.

The sprightly Asian green bee-eater birds that live in open spaces and have sharp eyesight along with a sweet voice, are found all over Bangladesh.

Whenever they catch sight of a prey, they fly after it in a straight line and return with it tightly in their beaks. If the prey is bigger and writhes too much, they will thresh it on the sides of a branch, kill it first and then devour it.

Their style of flying is very beautiful. It's a mesmerising sight when they fly together in a group. Their sweet songs, sung in unison are something to enjoy as well. And whenever they indulge in idle flight and wander around, it's an intriguing display.

This bird which is the smallest bird in Bangladesh is called ‘Shuichora’ in Bengali and its scientific name is Merops orientalis.

Their length, measuring from the tip of their beak to the end of their long needle-like feather is about 21 centimeters. Only the tail, starting from the base to the tip of the needle-like feather is 12.5 centimeter long. That means the length of their tail is more than the rest of their body.

At a glance, it seems like a line of kohl is stretched along the eyes of this green skittish bird. The crown of their head and the shoulder are of golden colour. Their chin is red while their beak and feet are black.

Apart from ‘Shuichora’, locally they are also known as ‘banshpati’, ‘shuikata’ or ‘shuipakhi’. Their curved beak is almost sharp as a needle. These birds are nomadic in nature. They don’t live in the same area for long.

*Sharif Khan is a bird expert.

*This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Nourin Ahmed Monisha.