Justification of Red List Category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and therefore is not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
In Europe, the breeding population is estimated to number 2,800,000-5,050,000 pairs, which equates to 5,600,000-10,100,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). Europe forms approximately 40% of the global range, so a very preliminary estimate of the global population size is 14,000,000-25,250,000 mature individuals, although further validation of this estimate is needed.
Declines may be occurring in parts of the range owing to loss of suitable prey due to widespread application of pesticides, loss of nesting sites through canalisation of rivers, increasing agricultural efficiency and establishment of monocultures, development of wilderness areas and shooting for sport, for food and because it is considered a crop pest (Fry and Boesman 2014). The population trend in Europe from 1989-2013 was uncertain (EBCC 2015), however the short-term trend is estimated to be stable (BirdLife International 2015). The population in South Africa appears to be declining (Fry and Boesman 2014).
In Europe, this species inhabits broad river valleys, pasture and cultivated land with shelter-belts and scattered trees; sunny hillsides, meadows, clover fields, plains, dissected steppe, shrubby riverbanks in semi-desert, and practically any open and well-timbered country, such as cork-oak woods, olive groves, tamarisks, rice fields, cereal and root crops, and Mediterranean macchia scrub. In Africa the species also uses savanna, lakeshores and farmland. Egg-laying is from May to June, in Europe and clutches can be from four to ten eggs. The nest is a burrow, which is occasionally excavated in flat or sloping sandy ground but more often in an earthen cliff (Fry and Boesman 2014). It feeds on flying insects, primarily Hymenoptera, and it hunts from perches. The species is migratory and winters almost entirely within Africa (Snow and Perrins 1998).
In the past the species has been killed as an apiary pest in Moldova, Hungary, Russia and Azerbaijan but present attitudes are unknown. Large numbers are shot in Malta and Cyprus each year (Tucker and Heath 1994). In the long term, greater threats are likely to be depression of insect faunas by the wide scale application of pesticides on the breeding and wintering grounds, increases in large-scale crop monoculture, the canalization of rivers resulting in the loss of riverbank nesting sites, and the development of wilderness land (Fry and Boesman 2014).
Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II. Bern Convention Appendix II. There are currently no known, specific conservation measures for this species within Europe.
Conservation Actions Proposed
Food availability may be difficult to increase and may not be the limiting factor of bee-eater populations in any case; this may be nest-site availability. If so the provision of small sand cliffs free of vegetation, erosion and interference would be beneficial for this species. The implementation and enforcement of legislation could reduce the number of birds shot in Malta, Cyprus and other counties with high levels of hunting (Tucker and Heath 1994). Research should be undertaken to identify the limiting factors of this species to help inform future conservation measures.
Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J. & Symes, A.
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Merops apiaster. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/01/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/01/2020.