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Carmine bee-eaters: Yearly visitors at Zambezi Mubala Lodge

Avatar of inke inke 01. September 2017 - Environment, Gondwana Collection

Southern carmine bee-eaters at Zambezi Mubala Lodge

An exciting event occurs annually at Gondwana’s Zambezi Mubala Lodge: the arrival of a colony of southern carmine bee-eaters! The bee-eaters arrive in their thousands in mid-August in a celebration of crimson and blue to breed in tunnels on - and above - the riverbank. They depart towards the end of the year from early November to late December, when they disperse through northern Namibia, travelling to south-central Africa for the Winter in early Autumn.

For the three to four months of their visit, the air is alive with vivid colour, birdsong and the swooping flight of the birds as they catch flying insects like grasshoppers, cicadas and dragonflies. (In areas where their diet is predominantly bees, the birds rub the bee against a branch to remove its sting.) 

The name of the lodge ‘mubala’ meaning colour in the local Silozi language, is an apt name for the lodge with the rich colours of the river and its colourful Spring guests. Mubala’s colony of southern carmine bee-eaters (Merops nubicoides) is said to be one of the largest breeding colonies in Africa. The birds use the same site every year for their gregarious communal breeding, digging new tunnels (terminating in nesting chambers) in which to lay their eggs.

Endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, carmine bee-eaters occur from Tanzania southwards to north-eastern Namibia, northern and eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and north-eastern South Africa. They favour savanna, especially in areas surrounding rivers and lakes.

Their predators include water monitors, snakes, mongooses, yellow-billed kites and humans. 

Also known as ‘rooiborsbyvreter’ in Afrikaans, ‘muhembo’ or ‘sisampamema’ in Kwangali and ‘scharlachspint’ in German, the bee-eaters are a burst of exuberant colour and activity on the banks of the Zambezi River.

Zambezi Mubala Lodge opens on November 1. 

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