The bee-eaters are small birds around 18 to 24 cms and characterized by richly colored plumage, slender bodies, and usually elongated central tail feathers. All have long down-turned curved, long bills with a sharp point and pointed wings. As the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat flying insects, especially bees and wasps, which are caught in the air from an open perch. While they pursue any type of flying insect, honey bees predominate in their diet.
All the bee-eaters are highly aerial. They take off strongly from perches, fly directly without undulating, and are able to change directions quickly. Bee-eaters rarely hover, the short legs have weak feet, when moving on the ground its gait is barely more than a shuffle.
Before eating its meal, a bee-eater removes the stinger by repeatedly hitting and rubbing the insect on a hard surface. During this process, pressure is applied to the insect thereby extracting most of the venom. Interestingly, the birds only catch prey that are flying or hovering and ignore flying insects once they land.
The bill can bite strongly, particularly at the tip, and is used as a pair of forceps with which to snatch insects from the air and crush smaller ones.
A number of the bee-eaters are migratory. There are about 26 different species of bee-eaters. The bee-eaters are almost exclusively aerial hunters and catch prey either while in continuous flight or more commonly from an exposed perch where the bee-eater watches for its meals.