What Kind of Birds Eat Bees?

By Ethan Shaw
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Despite their stinging defenses, bees are a common food item among certain birds.

Dietary Details

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Birds that eat bees would be classified as insectivores—creatures that consume insects—although many may only be part-timers, turning to bugs opportunistically or seasonally as part of a diverse menu. The northern mockingbird, for example, includes bees in its summertime insect-centered diet; in the autumn and winter, this vocal mimic shifts to fruit-eating.

Requirements

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Bees are a small moving target, so most of the birds that hunt them are similarly petite and mighty quick—though many species undoubtedly snatch them incidentally.

It's in the Name

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Probably the most famous avian bee hunters are the aptly named bee-eaters of the Old World. These long-billed, strikingly colored birds snag bees and other insects on the wing. Honeybees may be a preferred delicacy. One review, considering 20 studies of 16 species of bee-eaters, showed that 20 percent to 96 percent of the birds’ diets consisted of ants, bees and wasps, and among those, honeybees were the most common prey.

Another Specialist

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In North America, there are a few birds similarly efficient at catching bees. Like bee-eaters, olive-sided flycatchers grab the insects in flight, while summer tanagers eat bees (and wasps) both in their northern summer range and wintering grounds in Central and South America.

A Fellow Pollinator

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Ruby-throated hummingbirds are well-known for feasting on the nectar of flowering plants, but they will also snag small bees—perhaps encountered around the same food source—when the opportunity arises, in addition to other insects.

About the Author

Ethan Shaw is a writer and naturalist living in Oregon. He has written extensively on outdoor recreation, ecology and earth science for outlets such as Backpacker Magazine, the Bureau of Land Management and Atlas Obscura. Shaw holds a Bachelor of Science in wildlife ecology and a graduate certificate in geographic information systems from the University of Wisconsin.