Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory

<I>Merops (Merops) ornatus</I>

Merops (Merops) ornatus


Regional Maps


Compiler and date details

R. Schodde & I.J. Mason, CSIRO Australian National Wildlife Collection, Canberra, Australia


Meropidae (bee-eaters) comprise about 24–26 species in three (to nine) genera; one species occurs in Australia. No fossil members have yet been recorded in Australia. The family is centred in the Palaeotropics, from Africa through southern Eurasia to the Greater Sundas.

The Australian species is communal, feeding gregariously mainly on bees, wasps and flies captured in convoluted aerial hawking or sallies from exposed arboreal perches. Nests are excavated in earth banks and cliffs, in long, bent burrows with unlined egg-chamber; eggs are plain-white and spherical; and young are altricial, nidicolous, and become spiny due to retention of horny sheaths on their developing feathers; nidificational duties are shared by both sexes often assisted by helpers.

Family-group Systematics

Circumscription of the family has been settled since the revisions of Dresser (1884–1886) and Sharpe (1892), see Stresemann (1927–1934), Maurer & Raikow (1981), Burton (1984) and Sibley & Ahlquist (1990).

Genus-group Systematics

Merops Linnaeus, 1758—Although Wolters (1975–1982) may have split Meropidae excessively at generic level, many of his groups have relevance as subgenera, cf. Fry (1969, 1984). One of the most clear-cut is the nominotypical subgenus Merops Linnaeus, 1758, to which Australasian M. ornatus Latham, 1802 belongs. This group comprises about seven, Asian-centred, savannah-inhabiting species characterised by green-blue plumage, prolonged central rectrices, and secondaries banded with black at the very tip.

Species-group Systematics

Merops ornatus Latham, 1802—Specific circumscription has been established from Sharpe (1892), see Fry (1984). By convention, this species is assumed to be monotypic (Peters 1945; Condon 1975), but there has been no comprehensive analysis of geographical variation in support.



Slender, smallish, bright green-, blue-, or red-plumaged birds with patterned faces, attenuated tails, and black, down-tapered bills; body feathering slightly glossed, in defined tracts; small aftershafts; uropygial gland naked. Feet weak, anisodactylous; short tarsi scutellate, and all three forward toes extensively syndactylous, to terminal joint on outer two. Sexes alike. Wings rounded (sedentary, rainforest species) to commonly pointed (migratory or open country species): 10 primaries (plus or minus a vestigial 11th) moulting descendently, and 12–13 eutaxic secondaries; tail with central or lateral rectrices commonly prolonged: 12 rectrices moulting from outermost inwards and innermost outwards. Nares holorhinal, pervious, nasal septum perforate; desmognathous palate, with narrow vomer, long, flange-winged passerine-like palatines, and reduced lachrymals connected to reduced ectethmoids by cartilage; basipterygoid processes absent; cervical vertebrae 14(–15); sternum deeply 2-notched on each side, both spina externa and interna present and fused terminally in a spina communis, furcula without hypocleideum. Musculus expansor secundariorum present and 'ciconine', biceps slip absent; pelvic muscle formula AXY, no M. ambiens; deep plantar tendons Type V but completely fused only below a slip to hallux. Carotid arteries commonly reduced to the left (but paired in Nyctyornis). Syrinx tracheo-bronchial. Slender tongue sparsely fringed at base; no crop; caeca long. Diploid karyotype of 82 chromosomes, without obvious macrochromosomes.


General References

Boetticher, H. von 1951. La systématique des guêpiers. Oiseau et la Revue Française d'Ornithologie 21: 194-199

Burton, P.J.K. 1984. Anatomy and evolution of the feeding apparatus in the avian orders Coraciiformes and Piciformes. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Zoology 47: 331-443

Condon, H.T. 1975. Checklist of the Birds of Australia. Part 1 Non-Passerines. Melbourne : Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union xx 311 pp.

Dresser, H.E. 1886. A Monograph of the Meropidae, or family of the Bee-eaters. London : H.E. Dresser xx 144 pp. 34 pls. [published between 1884–1886]

Dyer, M. & Fry, C.H. 1978. The origin and role of helpers in bee-eaters. pp. 862-868 in Nöhring, R. (ed.). Acta XVII Congressus Internationalis Ornithologici. Berlin : Deutsche Ornithologen-Gesellschaft.

Fry, C.H. 1969. The evolution and systematics of bee-eaters (Meropidae). Ibis 111: 557-592

Fry, C.H. 1972. The biology of African bee-eaters. Living Bird 11: 75-112

Fry, C.H. 1984. The Bee-Eaters. Calton : T. & A.D. Poyser 304 pp., 8 pls.

Hanmer, D.B. 1980. Mensural and moult data on six species of bee-eater in Mozámbique and Malawi. Ostrich 51: 25-38

Koenig, L. 1951. Beiträge zu einem Aktionssystem des Bienenfressers (Merops apiaster L.). Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 8: 169-210

Maurer, D.R. & Raikow, R.J. 1981. Appendicular myology, phylogeny, and classification of the avian order Coraciiformes (including Trogoniformes). Annals of the Carnegie Museum 50: 417-434

Peters, J.L. 1945. Check-list of Birds of the World. Cambridge : Harvard University Press Vol. 5 xi 306 pp.

Sharpe, R.B. 1892. Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum. Catalogue of the Picariae. Coraciae (contin.) and Halcyones. London : British Museum Vol. 17 xi 522 pp. XVII pls.

Sibley, C.G. & Ahlquist, J.E. 1990. Phylogeny and Classification of Birds. A Study in Molecular Evolution. New Haven : Yale University Press xxiii 976 pp.

Streseman, E. 1927. Sauropsida: Aves. pp. in Kükenthal, W. & Krumbach, Th. (eds). Handbuch der Zoologie. Eine Naturgeschichte der Stämme des Tiereiches. Berlin : W. de Gruyter Bd 7, Hft 2 xi 899 pp. [Date published 1927–1934]

Wolters, H.E. 1975–1982. Die Vogelarten der Erde. Eine systematische Liste mit Verbreitungsangaben sowie deutschen und englischen Namen. Hamburg : Paul Parey xx 745 pp.


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
12-Feb-2010 (import)