Friday mystery object #176 answer

On Friday I gave you this specimen to have a go at identifying:


It’s a specimen that I came across when sorting out the bird osteology collections in the Horniman stores.

Several of you came to the same conclusion as me about the type of bird, with Jake, palaeosam and henstridgesj all suggesting one of the Bee-eaters. Using the excellent Skullsite resource I came to the conclusion that it was probably the European Bee-eater Merops apiaster Linnaeus, 1758, although there are lot of species within the Merops genus and only a few are represented. Certainly the skull length and width, bill to head length proportions and shape of the palate are consistent with M. apiaster.

European Bee-eaters, (Merops apiaster), in Amed, Northern Kurdistan, Turkey. By Dûrzan cîrano

Despite their name, European Bee-eaters live in Northern Africa and parts of Asia as well as in Southern Europe. True to their name they eat bees, but also wasps, hornets, dragonflies and other flying insects of a decent size (plus the occasional small vertebrate). As you might expect, the Bee-eaters are quite thorough in making sure that their prey is disarmed or dead before eating it, usually using their perch as an anvil to thoroughly bash the insect.

Very occasionally these beautiful birds have made it over to Britain after being blown off course during their migration, with an occasional attempt at breeding being recorded. Much as I have concerns about invasive species impacting on native wildlife, I’d still be keen to see more of these striking birds in the UK!

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