|Perched on a mud bank, maybe near a nest, near Valparai, Tamil Nadu
Quite a few people, in my experience, confuse the European Bee Eater (Merops apiaster) and the Green Bee-eater for the Chestnut-headed. The chestnut head in this species is darker in comparison to the golden-yellow of the Green Bee-eater in breeding plumage, and the cheeks are off-white, compared to the blue cheeks of the Green Bee-eater. The European Bee-eater, too, sports a chestnut crown, but it ends a little above the forehead, and then a dark band like a highwayman’s hood runs over the eyes. In the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater the chestnut runs all the way to just above the beak and over the eyes, and ends in a dark line under the eye.
|Showing off the bold brown collar
If you are straining against the bright sky, unable to discern the colors, the tail is an easy giveaway. The long spike, present in most bee eaters, is absent and the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater’s tail ends in a shallow w. The call is a repetitive ‘trill’ — gruffer than the Green Bee-eater’s — while perched and in flight.
|This is typically how you might encounter the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater – on an open perch in a forest glade
The Chestnut-headed Bee-eater nests in holes on sand embankments. They are common in south India, and I have spotted them in several places in the Western Ghats including the Anamalais. I have heard stories about village children raiding the nests with playful curiosity, but thankfully those occasional incidents remain the only threats to these lovely birds, loss of habitat and natural predators notwithstanding.
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