Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed marine
Listed migratory - JAMBA
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [Legislative Instrument].
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Least Concern (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Merops ornatus [670]
Family Meropidae:Coraciiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author Latham,1801
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

The current conservation status of the Rainbow Bee-eater, Merops ornatus, under Australian and State/Territory Government legislation and international conventions, is as follows:

National: Listed as a Migratory species and a Marine species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Scientific name: Merops ornatus.

Common name: Rainbow Bee-eater.

Other names: The Rainbow Bee-eater has, in the past, also been known as the Australian, Black-tailed or Pin-tailed Bee-eater; the Rainbow Bird, Rainbow-bird or Rain-bowbird; the Golden Merops or Golden Swallow; the Gold Digger or Gold Miner; the Pintail Sandpiper; or the Kingfisher, Pintail, Spinetail, Needlebeak or Berrin-berrin (Higgins 1999).

The taxonomy of this species is conventionally accepted (Christidis & Boles 1994; Schodde & Mason 1997; Sibley & Monroe 1990).

The Rainbow Bee-eater is a medium-sized bird, and the only species of bee-eater in Australia. The males measure 25 cm in length and the females 22 cm. Both length measurements include the central tail-streamers, which project 2 - 6 cm beyond the rest of the tail in the male and 1 - 2 cm in the female. The wingspan is 34 cm in the male and 31 cm in the female (Higgins 1999).

The adults have green or blue-green colouring on the forehead and chestnut on the back of the head. There is a bold black stripe across the eye that is bordered below by a narrower blue stripe and bright yellow colouring on the chin and cheeks that changes to chestnut around the throat and that is bordered by a conspicuous, crescent-shaped black patch on the front of the neck. The upper part of the back is bright green, merging to light blue on the lower part of the back to the base of the tail. There is bright green and light blue colouring on the upper surface of the wings, with chestnut colouring on the secondary feathers and dark brown primary feathers, light green colouring on the breast that becomes paler on the belly and that changes to light or pale blue from the lower belly to the base of the tail. The tail is black with blue edging on the upper surface and two long, wire-like central feathers (termed streamers) that project beyond the tip of the tail. Rainbow Bee-eaters have a long, slender and decurved black bill, red iris, dark grey skin around the eye and blackish legs and feet. There is some slight seasonal variation in the appearance of the plumage (Higgins 1999).

The adult males and females are similar in appearance, but can usually be distinguished by differences in the length and shape of the tail-streamers (i.e. the tail-streamers of females are shorter and thicker, and have broader tips, than those of the male). Juvenile Rainbow Bee-eaters can be distinguished from the adults by their dull colouring, the dark brown stripe across the eye, the dark brown iris, and the absence of the tail-streamers and the crescent-shaped black patch on the front of the neck (although some juveniles may have traces of the crescent-shaped patch) (Higgins 1999).

The Rainbow Bee-eater is usually seen in pairs or small flocks, although when migrating it may occur in groups of up to 500 birds or more (Higgins 1999). It usually nests in loose colonies that may contain up to about 50 pairs, but some pairs nest solitarily (Boland 2004a; Fry 1984; Lane 1963; Leach & Hines 1987; Lill 1993).

The Rainbow Bee-eater is distributed across much of mainland Australia, and occurs on several near-shore islands. It is not found in Tasmania, and is thinly distributed in the most arid regions of central and Western Australia (Barrett et al. 2003; Blakers et al. 1984; Higgins 1999).

The extent of occurrence of the Rainbow Bee-eater in Australia has not been estimated. Trends in the extent of occurrence have not been quantified, but records indicate that the distribution of the species (and, hence, the extent of occurrence) has expanded in south-western Australia. The Rainbow Bee-eater was rare around Perth during the 19th century, and was recorded only infrequently before the 1920s. However, the bee-eater had begun to vist Perth regularly and in larger numbers by the late 1970s, and it colonized Rottnest Island in 1977 (Abbott et al. 1978; Storr & Johnstone 1988).

The area of occupancy of the Rainbow Bee-eater in Australia has not been estimated. Trends in the area of occupancy have not been quantified, but records indicate that the distribution of the species (and, hence, the area of occupancy) has expanded in south-western Australia (Abbott et al. 1978; Storr & Johnstone 1988).

The number of locations that the Rainbow Bee-eater occurs in is unknown, and has not been estimated. The concept of discrete locations is difficult to apply to the Rainbow Bee-eater because of its widespread distribution and its ability to undertake long-distance movements (A. Lill 2006, pers. comm.)

The Rainbow Bee-eater is held in captivity at five zoos or institutions: Taronga Zoo in New South Wales, Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria, Adelaide Zoo in South Australia, and Territory Wildlife Park and Alice Springs Desert Park in the Northern Territory (ISIS 2006f). No captive birds have been released into the wild, and no releases have been proposed or are likely to occur in the near future.

Published maps (Barrett et al. 2003; Blakers et al. 1984; Higgins 1999) indicate that the distribution of the Rainbow Bee-eater is not severely fragmented.

The Rainbow Bee-eater is widely distributed throughout Australia and eastern Indonesia, including Bali, the Lesser Sundas and Sulawesi, and east to Papua New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago and, rarely, the Solomon Islands. It is a vagrant visitor to locations further north including Palau, south-western Micronesia, Saipan, the northern Mariana Islands, and Miyako Island and the southern Ryuku Islands in Japan. The majority of the global population breeds in Australia (including on Rottnest Island and islands in the south-west Torres Strait). Breeding has also been recorded in eastern Papua New Guinea (around Port Moresby and the Ramu Valley) and may possibly occur in the Lesser Sundas (del Hoyo et al. 2001; Higgins 1999).

The Rainbow Bee-eater is not considered globally threatened. There are no published estimates of the global population size, but it is assumed to be quite large as the Rainbow Bee-eater is widely distributed (i.e. the global extent of occurrence is estimated at 1 000 000 to 10 000 000 km²) and is said to be seasonally common and locally abundant throughout much of its range (BirdLife International 2005a; del Hoyo et al. 2001). Trends in global population size have not been quantified, but they are unlikely to approach the rate of decline that is required for the bee-eater to be listed as a threatened species (BirdLife International 2005a).

There are no published estimates of the global or Australian population sizes. Consequently, it is not possible to determine what proportion of the global population occurs in Australia. The Australian population is not distinct; an unknown proportion of the Australian population migrates to Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia for the non-breeding period (Higgins 1999). No specific threats to the species have been identified in Australia or elsewhere.

The Rainbow Bee-eater has been poorly surveyed in Australia. Data on population densities have been collected from sites in Queensland (Keast 1985), New South Wales (Ford et al. 1985), Western Australia (Keast 1985) and the Northern Territory (Keast 1985; Noske 1996; Woinarski & Tidemann 1991; Woinarski et al. 1988), but none of these surveys have used their data to extrapolate population estimates. The distribution is much more well known than the population size and, given the reporting rate for the species (the Atlas of Australian Birds has received more than 30 000 records of the Rainbow Bee-eater since 1998 [Atlas of Australian Birds, unpublished data]), is likely to be a close approximation of the actual distribution.

The total population size of the Rainbow Bee-eater in Australia has not been estimated. However, the population size is assumed to be reasonably large based on reporting rates for the species (i.e. the Atlas of Australian Birds has received more than 30 000 records of the Rainbow Bee-eater since 1998 [Atlas of Australian Birds, unpublished data]).

It is not known if the total population of the Rainbow Bee-eater is divided into a series of discrete subpopulations. However, the mobility of the species suggests that it is unlikely that any local or regional population would be genetically isolated from the remainder of the Australian population.

The overall population trend of the Rainbow Bee-eater in Australia has not been quantified. Numbers increased around Perth between the 1920s and late 1970s, and Rottnest Island was colonized in 1977 (Abbott et al. 1978; Storr & Johnstone 1988). However, numbers may have declined around Darwin in the Northern Territory, where the bee-eater is possibly less common now than it was in the late 1960s (Higgins 1999). The comparison of bird atlas data for two sampling periods (1977 to 1981 and 1998 to 2001) found that there was no significant difference in the overall reporting rate of the Rainbow Bee-eater between the two periods, but that there were significant differences in reporting rates in particular regions (Barrett et al. 2002). This analysis suggests that there has been little or no change in the total population size of the Rainbow Bee-eater, but that there have been shifts in local abundances and, possibly, in local distributions. These local shifts in abundance and, perhaps, distribution may (or may not) explain the recent declines in Rainbow Bee-eater numbers that have occurred in parts of Victoria (Collins 2006; Gugger 2006; Hubregtse 2006; Tate 2006; Wilson 2006) and New South Wales (Shingleton 2006).

The Atlas of Australian Birds records the Rainbow Bee-eater in 632 conservation reserves since 1998 (n=5 295 records). The reserves in which the bee-eater has most frequently been recorded (i.e. that have had 60 or more records) are, by State (Atlas of Australian Birds, unpublished data):

Northern Territory

  • Kakadu National Park (n=380 records)
  • Casuarina Coastal Reserve (n=149)
  • Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve (n=73)
  • Gregory National Park (n=66)
  • Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park (n=65)


  • Lakefield National Park (n=184)
  • Clemant Forest Reserve (n=69)

Western Australia

  • Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve (n=123)
  • King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park (n=68)
  • Forrestdale Lake Nature Reserve (n=64)

South Australia

  • Danggali Conservation Park (n=68)


  • Terrick Terrick National Park (n=63)

The Atlas of Australian Birds records the Rainbow Bee-eater in 632 conservation reserves since 1998 (n=5 295 records). The reserves in which the bee-eater has most frequently been recorded (i.e. that have had 60 or more records) are, by State (Atlas of Australian Birds, unpublished data):

Northern Territory

  • Kakadu National Park (n=380 records)
  • Casuarina Coastal Reserve (n=149)
  • Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve (n=73)
  • Gregory National Park (n=66)
  • Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park (n=65)


  • Lakefield National Park (n=184)
  • Clemant Forest Reserve (n=69)

Western Australia

  • Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve (n=123)
  • King Leopold Ranges Conservation Park (n=68)
  • Forrestdale Lake Nature Reserve (n=64)

South Australia

  • Danggali Conservation Park (n=68)


  • Terrick Terrick National Park (n=63)

The Rainbow Bee-eater occurs mainly in open forests and woodlands, shrublands, and in various cleared or semi-cleared habitats, including farmland and areas of human habitation (Higgins 1999). It usually occurs in open, cleared or lightly-timbered areas that are often, but not always, located in close proximity to permanent water (Badman 1979; Boekel 1976; Fry 1984; Roberts 1979; Storr 1984a, 1984b, 1985a). It also occurs in inland and coastal sand dune systems, and in mangroves in northern Australia, and has been recorded in various other habitat types including heathland, sedgeland, vine forest and vine thicket, and on beaches (Higgins 1999).
The Rainbow Bee-eater occurs in open woodlands and shrublands, including mallee, and in open forests that are usually dominated by eucalypts. It also occurs in grasslands (Gibson 1986; Jones 1986; Leach 1988; Longmore 1978; McEvey & Middleton 1968; Saunders & Ingram 1995; Woinarski et al. 1988, 1989) and, especially in arid or semi-arid areas, in riparian, floodplain or wetland vegetation assemblages (Badman 1989; Gee et al. 1996; Gibson 1986; Gibson & Cole 1988; Henle 1989; Longmore 1978; Storr 1977; Woinarski et al. 1988).

In northern Australia, it often inhabits mangroves (Crawford 1972; Garnett & Bredl 1985; Noske 1996; Storr 1977; Woinarski et al. 1988). The bee-eater has also been recorded in other vegetation types including heathland (Longmore 1978; McFarland 1988; Saunders & Ingram 1995), sedgeland (Frith & Calaby 1974; Longmore 1978), semi-evergreen mesophyll vine forest, and semi-deciduous vine thicket (Woinarski et al. 1988), and at the ecotone between open forest and closed monsoon forest (Woinarski et al. 1989). It also inhabits sand dune systems in coastal areas and at inland sites that are in close proximity to water (Badman 1989; Gibson 1986; Gibson & Cole 1988; Higgins 1999; Martindale 1980), and has occasionally been recorded on beaches (Deignan 1964; Frith & Calaby 1974) and coral cays (McLean 1993).

The Rainbow Bee-eater is also common in cleared and semi-cleared habitats (Morris 1976, 1977; Wolstenholme 1925). It occurs in farmland (Fry 1984; Leach 1988; Saunders & Ingram 1995), orchards (McKeown 1923) and vineyards (Chandler 1944; McEvey 1965), and is regularly recorded in other disturbed habitats including roadside vegetation (McKeown 1923; Sedgwick 1986; Wolstenholme 1925) and in quarries, mines or gravel pits, where they often breed (Higgins 1999; Fry 1984; Leach & Hines 1987; Lill 1993; Serventy & Whittell 1976). It has also been recorded in towns and suburbs (Carruthers 1975; Cohn 1927; Howard 1983; Jones 1981; Longmore 1978; Thompson 1978, 1984a; Wheeler 1959b; Wolstenholme 1925), and around homesteads (Barrett 1922; McGill 1944; Morse 1922).

On migration, the Rainbow Bee-eater may also fly over the top of non-preferred habitats such as rainforest or treeless plains (Carruthers 1975; Griffin 1974; Flether 1980).
The Rainbow Bee-eater has not been formally identified to occur in any threatened ecological communities. However, the widespread distribution of the bee-eater, and the variety of habitats that it has been recorded in, indicate that it could potentially occur in some of the threatened ecological communities listed under the EPBC Act 1999.

Based on the maximum interval between banding and re-sighting dates for individual birds, the Rainbow Bee-eater is capable of living for up to 24 months in the wild (Higgins 1999). No information is available on the ages of sexual maturity or natural mortality.
The Rainbow Bee-eater breeds in socially monogamous pairs that are sometimes assisted by a varying number of auxiliary birds or 'helpers' that are usually male (Boland 2004a; Courtney 1971; Fry 1984; Lill & Fell 1997; Morris 1976; Rix 1976). The nests are typically concentrated together in loose colonies, although in some instances pairs will nest solitarily (Fry 1984; Lane 1963; Leach & Hines 1987; Lill 1993; Morris 1977).

In Australia, the breeding season extends from August to January (Boland 2004a; Higgins 1999). The nest is located in an enlarged chamber at the end of long burrow or tunnel that is excavated, by both sexes (Comrie-Smith 1930; Fry 1984; Morris 1977), in flat or sloping ground, in the banks of rivers, creeks or dams, in roadside cuttings, in the walls of gravel pits or quarries, in mounds of gravel, or in cliff-faces (Boland 2004a; Forshaw & Cooper 1987; Fry 1984; Higgins 1999; Lill 1993). Nesting areas are often re-used (Lill 1993), and banding studies indicate that at least some migrant birds return to the same nesting area each year (Carruthers 1975; Lane 1963; Waterman 1965; Boland 2004a). However, pairs usually excavate a new nesting burrow for each breeding season (Boland 2004a; Lill 1993; Morris 1977).

The nesting chamber is generally unlined (the eggs are laid directly onto the bare earth or sand) (Forshaw & Cooper 1987), although in some burrows the chamber may be lined with grass, feathers, snail shells or wasp wings (Berney 1906; Cleland 1909; Higgins 1999). The female lays a clutch of two to eight, but normally four or five, pearl-white eggs (Boland 2004a; Lill 1993; McGilp 1923) that are incubated by both sexes (and, if present, by auxiliaries) (Boland 2004a; Morris 1977) for a period of 22 to 31 days (Boland 2004a; Courtney 1971; Fry 1984; Lill 1993). The nestlings are fed by both sexes and, at nests that have helpers, by auxiliaries (Boland 2004a; Comrie-Smith 1930; Lill & Fell 1997; Morris 1976, 1977). The young remain in their natal burrows for a period of 23 to 36 days (Boland 2004a; Courtney 1971; Fry 1984; Lill 1993; Morris 1976). They continue to be fed by the adults for another two to four weeks after their first departure from the nest (Boland 2004a; Lill & Fell 1997; Morris 1976, 1977).

Data on breeding success are available from Cooloola National Park and Lara. At Cooloola National Park, over three breeding seasons, 26% of breeding attempts (n=329) produced at least one fledgeling, and a mean of 0.8 young were fledged per nest (Boland 2004a). At Lara, over three breeding seasons, 39.8% of eggs (n=55) hatched and produced fledgelings. Of the 65 breeding attempts that were monitored, 40 (61.5%) successfully fledged at least one young. By applying this success data to the observed mean clutch-size of 4.5, it can be calculated that 1.8 young were fledged per clutch (Lill 1993).

The loss of eggs and/or nestlings has been attributed to predation, heavy rain or flooding, desertion of nest by the adults, removal of eggs by the adults, disease or malnutrition, and destruction by livestock (Boland 2004a; Lill 1993). Predators of eggs and/or nestlings include foxes (Sloane 1916; Higgins 1999; Lill 1993; Morse 1922), dingoes and feral dogs (Boland 2004a; Fry 1984), Cane Toads (Boland 2004a), goannas and monitors (Boland 2004a; Higgins 1999; Forshaw & Cooper 1987; Morris 1976), brown snakes (Sloane 1916; Lill 1993), Australian Magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen) (Ashton 1986), Brown Goshawks (Accipiter fasciatus) (Forshaw & Cooper 1987) and Yellow-footed Antechinus (Antechinus flavipes) (Boland 2004a). Nests of the Rainbow Bee-eater are presumably susceptible to predation, flooding and trampling because they are located on the ground and in banks, for example, of rivers and creeks.

The Rainbow Bee-eater mainly feeds on insects (Barker & Vestjens, undated; Calver et al. 1987; Fry 1984; Higgins 1999; Lea & Gray 1935; Serventy & Whittell 1976), and will occasionally take other animal items including earthworms (Cleland et al. 1918), spiders (Lea & Gray 1935) and tadpoles (Wheeler 1973). The insect component of the diet mainly consists of bees and wasps, but also includes various other insects such as beetles, moths, butterflies, damselflies, dragonflies, flies, ants and bugs (Barker & Vestjens, undated; Calver et al. 1987; Fry 1984; Higgins 1999; Lea & Gray 1935; Lill May 2006, pers. comm.; Pywell 1990; Serventy & Whittell 1976).
The Rainbow Bee-eater captures most of its prey in flight, although it also takes food items from the ground and from foliage (Guthrie 1969; Wheeler 1973), and has occasionally been seen to snatch items from below the surface of rivers and dams (Brooker et al. 1990; Wheeler 1973).

The Rainbow Bee-eater usually forages from open perches, from which it may scan for prey (typically flying insects). When a flying prey item is sighted, the Rainbow Bee-eater launches into a swift pursuit flight, which may include a series of rapid twists and turns, and snaps up its prey (Fry 1984; Pywell 1990). The captured prey is usually taken back to the perch to be eaten, although items are occasionally consumed in flight (Fry 1984; Pywell 1990). In addition to this regular method, the Rainbow Bee-eater may also employ other foraging strategies such as aerial sweeping, in which the bird sweeps back and forth through the air, catching several items at a time without returning to a perch (Fry 1984; Pywell 1990), or surface-plunging (Higgins 1999), in which the bird hovers above a river or dam, then dives and plunges its bill below the surface of the water to snatch a prey item, and then returns to a perch to feed (Guthrie 1969; Wheeler 1973). It has also been seen foraging on the ground (Morris 1977).

The Rainbow Bee-eater usually beats its prey items against a perch before the prey items are consumed (Guthrie 1969; Lill & Fell 1997; Morris 1977; Wheeler 1973). Bees and wasps are handled using a method called bee-rubbing, in which the sting of the bee or wasp is removed or rendered ineffective to prevent injury to the bee-eater (Fry 1984; Morris 1977; Nicholls & Rook 1962).

The Rainbow Bee-eater forages around beehives (Le Souëf 1915; Sedgwick 1949) and feeds extensively on the honey bee Apis mellifera (Fry 1984; Lea & Gray 1935). For this reason, it is sometimes considered a pest, and is shot, by apiarists (Gray 1939; Higgins 1999; Le Souëf 1915; Sedgwick 1949).

The movement patterns of the Rainbow Bee-eater are complex, and are not fully understood. Populations that breed in southern Australia are migratory. After breeding, they move north and remain there for the duration of the Australian winter. However, populations that breed in northern Australia are considered to be resident, and in many northern localities the Rainbow Bee-eater is present throughout the year (Emison et al. 1987; Lane 1963; Morris et al. 1981; Saunders & Ingram 1995; Serventy 1948; Serventy & Whittell 1976; Terrill & Rix 1950).

The southern populations of the Rainbow Bee-eater migrate northward from February to April, and return to their breeding grounds in September and October (Emison et al. 1987; Lane 1963; Morris et al. 1981; Saunders & Ingram 1995; Serventy 1948; Serventy & Whittell 1976; Terrill & Rix 1950). The movements of the northern populations are more complex. Those that occur in coastal or subcoastal areas are present throughout the year, but may move from riparian areas, where they breed, into more open habitats during the non-breeding period (Carruthers 1975; Higgins 1999). However, observation of inland populations between Katherine and Elliott in the Northern Territory show that the bee-eater is mostly absent from open forests from mid-April to early September, but is widespread and fairly numerous at other times (Sedgwick 1947). Interpreting the movements of the northern populations is further complicated due to the presence of migrant birds from southern Australia, which move through northern Australia on passage to non-breeding areas (Carruthers 1975; Higgins 1999).

The Rainbow Bee-eater migrates north to, and spends the non-breeding period in, northern Australia, Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia. In northern Australia, the non-breeding range of the bee-eater extends throughout the coastal tropics, subtropics and continental islands, and southward to the Pilbara region and Carnarvon in Western Australia, to approximately 16º S in the Northern Territory, and to the channel country of south-western Queensland. In eastern Australia, the non-breeding range extends southward along the Great Dividing Range to Iluka in north-eastern New South Wales. Part of this population is considered to be resident in northern Australia (Higgins 1999).

The Rainbow Bee-eater passes through northern Australia, on passage, from February to June, with most movement occurring from March to May (Higgins 1999). They arrive in Papua New Guinea in late March and April, and some continue to pass through Port Moresby in May (Bell 1969; Coates 1985; Peckover & Filewood 1976). The bee-eaters remain in New Guinea from March to October, although southward movements begin in late August, and most birds have departed Papua New Guinea by the end of September (Coates 1985). In Indonesia, the Rainbow Bee-eater is mostly recorded from late March to late September, although in the Lesser Sundas some birds may be present throughout the year (Coates et al. 1997; Forshaw & Cooper 1987; Fry et al. 1992).

The Rainbow Bee-eater migrates back across the Timor Sea, Arafura Sea and Torres Strait, and reaches northern Australia, from August to October, with maximum numbers on passage, over both the Torres Strait and mainland, during September. The bee-eater returns to its breeding sites in southern Australia from August to early November, although most birds arrive between mid-September and mid-October (Higgins 1999).

Populations of the Rainbow Bee-eater gather together and assemble into flocks before migration (Bell 1969; Crawford 1972; Hobbs 1961; Morris 1976). The migrating flocks, which can consist of tens to hundreds or thousands of birds (Draffan et al. 1983; Garnett 1985; Garnett & Bredl 1985; Gill 1970; Hobbs 1961; Morris 1977), often fly high above the ground when on passage (Coates 1985; Le Souëf 1913). Migration generally takes place during daylight hours (Beruldsen 1990; Draffan et al. 1983; Taplin 1991), although some nocturnal movements have been recorded (Gill 1970), and these may occur mainly (or perhaps only) on moonlit nights (Fry et al. 1992).

In Australia, there are also some records of movements outside the apparent time-frame for migration. For example, over a three year period at Jingellic in New South Wales, the Rainbow Bee-eater was recorded more frequently in winter (44% of surveys) than it was in spring (22%), summer (7%) or autumn (6%) (Winterbottom 1981), suggesting that some birds may winter in parts of southern Australia (Higgins 1999). For a more detailed summary of movements, see Higgins (1999).

Territories are established by nesting pairs during the breeding season (Boland 2004a; Fry 1984). The territories are usually polygonal in shape (Fry 1984). For example, in the Warby Ranges in Victoria, most territories were in the shape of a long, narrow triangle, with a perching tree at each of the corners (Morris 1977). The territories are centred around the favoured perching site (Fry 1984; Morris 1977) and are defended by the male or, sometimes, by both members of a pair (Morris 1977). The adults are highly territorial, and usually do not allow other bee-eaters to enter their territory (Boland 2004a), although in situations in which two nests within a colony are located close together, neighbouring pairs may be 'quite tolerant' of one another (Fry 1984).

The home range of the Rainbow Bee-eater has not been described.

The Rainbow Bee-eater is a distinctive bird that is unlikely to be mistaken for any other species in Australia (Higgins 1999). It is readily detectable, and is described as noisy and conspicuous. It is often seen sitting on exposed perches such as fence posts, overhead wires or bare trees, or soaring or drifting in groups overhead; and it is often heard well before it is first seen (Higgins 1999; A. Lill 2006, pers. comm.).

The only actual, identified threat to the Rainbow Bee-eater is the introduced Cane Toad (Bufo marinus). Cane Toads reduce the breeding success and productivity of the Rainbow Bee-eater by feeding on eggs and especially nestlings, and usurping and occupying nesting burrows. The nesting burrows of the Rainbow Bee-eater are vulnerable to intrusion by Cane Toads because their entrances are located on the ground or in banks or slopes (which the toad is capable of climbing), and because the adult bee-eaters appear not to recognize the Cane Toad as a potential threat and, in any case, they usually do not attempt to evict intruders from their nesting burrows (Boland 2004b).

The impact of the Cane Toad has been demonstrated by a recent study at Cooloola National Park in Queensland, which found that one-third of all breeding attempts by the Rainbow Bee-eater failed because of interference by Cane Toads. Furthermore, when nests that were interfered with by Cane Toads were excluded from the analysis of breeding success, it was found that the mean breeding success of the Rainbow Bee-eater increased from 0.8 fledgelings per nest to 1.2 fledgelings per nest (Boland 2004a, 2004b). This information suggests that the reduced breeding success of the Rainbow Bee-eater in the presence of the Cane Toad could be having a significant effect on bee-eater populations in northern Australia (Boland 2004b).

No other actual threats to the Rainbow Bee-eater have been identified. However, other processes that could potentially impact upon bee-eater populations include predation by other introduced predators, such as foxes (Morse 1922; Sloane 1916; Lill 1993), dingoes and other feral dogs (Boland 1984a; Fry 1984), and shooting by apiarists (Higgins 1999; Le Souëf 1915). For example, one apiarist shot approximately 220 bee-eaters during a period of three to four weeks (Gray 1939). Deaths have also been recorded as a result of collisions with vehicles (Vestjens 1973), and there may be some mortality associated with collisions with lighthouses when the birds are migrating (Ingram et al. 1986; Serventy 1951; Taplin 1991), but the apparent rarity of these events suggests that they are likely to be having little or no impact on bee-eater populations.

Shooting is likely to have been a greater threat to the Rainbow Bee-eater in the past than it is now. This is because the Rainbow Bee-eater could formerly be shot legally: it was considered to be a noxious pest in Queensland during the 1930s, and a bounty was paid for its destruction (Barker 1938), and it was also shot for use in the millinery trade (Higgins 1999). However, like all other native birds in Australia, the Rainbow Bee-eater is now a protected species.

The impacts of introduced predators other than the Cane Toad are largely unknown. However, at Cooloola National Park, dingoes were responsible for the failure of 16% of all nesting attempts observed (n=329) (Boland 2004a), and at Lara in Victoria, a small proportion (approximately 7%) of egg and nestling losses were attributed to predation by foxes (Lill 1993).

The Rainbow Bee-eater is currently considered to be a low priority for management. The population size and population trends have not been quantified, but the population size is assumed to be reasonably large, and there is little documented evidence of population declines. Further research is required to determine the population size and population trends, and to determine threats and their actual or potential impacts, before any management programs can be implemented meaningfully.

Detailed studies or observations on the biology and ecology of the Rainbow Bee-eater in Australia have been conducted by Boland (2004a, 2004b), Bellis and Profke (2003), Calver and colleagues (1987), Courtney (1971), Eklom and Lill (2006), Garnett (1985), Lill (1993), Lill and Fell (1997), Morris (1976, 1977) and Pywell (1990).

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Biological Resource Use:Hunting and Collecting Terrestrial Animals:Direct exploitation by humans including hunting Merops ornatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006qi) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Vulpes vulpes (Red Fox, Fox) Merops ornatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006qi) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Canis lupus familiaris (Domestic Dog) Merops ornatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006qi) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Rhinella marina (Cane Toad) Merops ornatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006qi) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or predation Canis lupus dingo (Dingo, Warrigal, New Guinea Singing Dog) Merops ornatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006qi) [Internet].
Transportation and Service Corridors:Roads and Railroads:Vehicle related mortality Merops ornatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006qi) [Internet].
Transportation and Service Corridors:Shipping Lanes:Collision with shipping infrastructure Merops ornatus in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006qi) [Internet].

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Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Merops ornatus in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:38:00 +1000.