One of the things that I love about Bee Eaters is how fast they must be to actually catch a bee. And to think that they have resistance to their stings is amazing to me. So, despite how much I appreciate bees and the role that they play in our ecosystem, I typically sit and watch in fascination as the Bee Eaters swiftly grab their prey, faster than the human eye can process.
Today, I stopped to watch them amidst the off and on rains through the part of the rainforest here in Mission Beach, Queensland. Far North Queensland (FNQ) has a good share of Bee Eaters but you’re not always guaranteed to see them. I didn’t know if I would today, given the weather. But I came upon a couple of them happily hunting right outside of the B&B where I am staying. So I sat in fascination to see if there were any bugs available on such a wet day. I’d watch them come and go with what seemed to be not much luck – beaks empty, and so they’d try again – heads turning this way and that, as if they were seeing something, and any second ready for the kill. After hopes of catching a photo of one mid-flight (man and camera vs. swifter bird), and careening my neck almost straight up to watch, I had just decided to give up and do something a bit less taxing when it happened…. the little Bee Eater who had been so patient with his human stalker, caught a big green butterfly.
I guess I hadn’t thought about the prospect of a butterfly up to this point – much less about how much difficulty the Bee Eater would have in getting it down. And so I just let my camera take in all of the action as I watched in amazement how he tried to flick it (presumably to kill it?), swat it against the wire (for leverage to swallow?), dropped it and went flying to recover it, tried repeatedly to swallow only to watch it come right back up, until finally,.....
...the last little bit of the butterfly finally disappeared.
I then realized, quite amused, that all of the many swallows who had been flying past me for the last hour, had all stopped – and had found a seat on the wire to watch all of the theatrics. Were they hoping he would share? That he would drop his meal and give them a go? Or were they just as entertained as I was to see who would win this long battle for the finish?
I watched to see if the little Bee Eater would now take off. I don’t know if I expected the equivalent of a human after a very heavy meal. Would this be enough to be the final meal of the day? No – no drama, no real reaction, no indication of satiation – it was back to business. And so I watched as he once again turned his head left and right …. right back into the action for the next flying meal of the afternoon.