Bee-eaters breed on Isle of Wight

This section of the page features an image gallery, so if you're using a screen reader you may wish to jump to the main content.

Latest update 29.07.2014 12:08

A pair of colourful and rare bee-eaters that have set up home on our land on the Isle of Wight have become only the third recorded pair to successfully breed in the UK in the last century.

Bee-eaters, which would normally be found nesting in southern Europe, were last recorded breeding in the UK in 2002, when a pair nested in a quarry in County Durham and two young successfully fledged. Before that, two pairs were recorded raising seven young in a Sussex sand-pit in 1955.

Bee-eatersare insect-eating birds, feeding on a wide variety of flying insects including wasps and bees. They are colourful birds with turquoise underparts and tail, bright yellow throat, chestnut head and back, green eye markings, and black eye stripe. They lay their eggs (clutch of 4-9) in holes between 50 and 275 cm in length, excavated by the birds in soft earth.

Where are they nesting?

The bee-eaters, which were discovered on the Island in mid-July, have set up home in the sandy hills of the Wydcombe Estate on the south of the Island in a small valley where the soft ground, rolling landscape and stream access provides ideal conditions for their nest burrow. The burrow could be up to three metres long.

Ian Ridett, one of our Isle of Wight Rangers, said: ‘We have set up a 24-hour surveillance operation around the site to protect these rare visitors, as any unhatched eggs could be a potential target for egg thieves.

‘We have had incredible support from the RSPB, Isle of Wight Ornithological Group and our volunteers and staff, some of whom have travelled from the mainland to help.

Why did they choose the Isle of Wight?

‘The hot temperatures since spring have helped an above average arrival of bee-eaters, with more than ten seen along the south coast since May,’ said Ian. ‘With rising temperatures, the varied landscape and bountiful supply of insects on the Wydcombe Estate was obviously enough to tempt the bee-eaters to nest here.’

The adult birds have been delivering food into the nest which indicates the eggs have hatched. The chicks will not leave their underground nest for another fortnight or so, so the number of chicks hatched is still not known.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature and wildlife expert, said: ‘The bee-eater is arguably the most stunning bird on the British list; it looks tropical.

‘It’s really exciting to have these bee-eaters breeding on National Trust land, and we are pulling out all the stops to help the chicks safely fledge, whilst keeping the public up-to-date with their progress. As our climate changes it’s likely that we’ll see increasing numbers of new visitors on our shores.’

Keith Ballard, the site manager at the RSPB’s Brading Marshes reserve on the Isle of Wight, said: ‘It’s the stuff of dreams to have a rare nesting event like this on the Isle of Wight; and it’s looking like the initiative by the National Trust rangers to make the nest site safe is going to lead to success for these birds.

‘There was a very real threat that these nesting birds could have been targeted by egg thieves, so it’s been quite a nervous period over the last 12 days. It has been a pleasure for the RSPB staff and volunteers to help with this operation.’

Further information on the Wydcombe bee-eaters can be found on The Isle of Wight team's Facebook page or by calling the estate office on 01983 741020.

We've created a designated public viewing point  overlooking the birds' favourite feeding area so that you can enjoy these exotic looking creatures. This will be carefully managed though, as the birds’ wellbeing and welfare will take priority. The Wydcombe Estate grid reference is SZ511 787 and the postcode is PO38 2NY.