Bee-eaters, which first bred in Norfolk last year, have made an unprecedented return to our shores.
Three of the colourful birds, including a nesting pair, have been spotted again in a sand quarry near Cromer, and it is the first time the summer visitors have returned to the same breeding site in the UK in consecutive years.
The birds are being closely monitored by the RSPB, local birders and North-East Norfolk Bird Club to ensure their safety and allow them to breed undisturbed. At least one nesting pair has already been confirmed and it’s anticipated additional birds may join them.
A managed public viewing area has now been opened nearby, for people wanting to see these rainbow arrivals, with full details here.
Eight Bee-eaters were a sensation when they arrived in Norfolk last year, and birdwatchers are excited about their return, with many keen to catch a glimpse of the brightly-coloured visitors.
While there is excitement, there is also concern about why the exotic birds are now nesting here instead of their favoured Mediterranean habitats. Formerly very rare breeders in the UK, this year marks the seventh breeding attempt in England in the past 20 years. This suggests they are attempting to establish a regular breeding colony in the UK, a clear impact of climate change.
Mark Thomas, from the RSPB, said: “Bee-eaters are like no other bird you’re likely to see in the UK. Not only are they indescribably beautiful, in their ice-lolly colours, but they put on a great show as they leap from a favourite perch to catch flying insects mid-air.
“Bee-eaters have generally turned up in the UK on a very ad-hoc basis, so far never re-using the same nest site twice. We can’t be certain if these are the same birds that raised a successful brood here last year, but it is a real possibility. If that’s the case, this could be the start of Bee-eaters properly colonising the UK and a sign that they may become a regular feature of the great British summer.”
He added: “Their return is a vivid reminder of the changes being wrought by our overheating planet. Bee-eaters are a species found commonly in the southern Mediterranean and northern Africa, and as our planet warms they – along with other species – are being pushed further north.”
About the size of a starling, Bee-eaters can be identified by their red backs, blue bellies and yellow throats. As well as bees, they feed on dragonflies and other flying insects, which they catch in mid-air. With their beautiful rippling calls to match their vibrant colours, they are an unmistakable visitor to have arrived in Norfolk.
RSPB volunteer, Josh Fusiara, who helped manage the site when the birds bred there in 2022, said: “To have been able to help manage and protect breeding Bee-eaters in the UK was amazing and something I will never forget. I love that they’re accessible for the public to see, and there’s a real sense of community at the viewing site. To have seen the Bee-eater chicks fledge last summer was a truly special experience and a tribute to the brilliant work of the whole team.”
The birds are expected to remain in the area until the end of summer, after which they will fly to southern Africa for the winter.
The viewing area is open to the public from Friday 16 June, costing £5 per person to cover site monitoring and protection. The site can currently only accept cash. More information on the birds and visiting the site can be found here.
Located to the east of the quarry, the car park and viewing area can be found in a large grass field off Gimingham Road, Trimingham at TG284384. (What3words w3w.co/forklift.shuts.gravel).
Main image credit: BeeEater flying in Norfolk 2022 credit Mike Edgecombe
A video about last year’s Bee-eaters can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TMCw5s12Hxw