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24 July 2017

Bee-eater chicks hatched at UK quarry

First publishedon www.AggBusiness.com
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bee-eater at CEMEX
A bee-eater at CEMEX's East Leake quarry in Nottinghamshire, England pic: Jeff Rose
Bee-eater chicks have hatched at a quarry in Nottinghamshire, England – just the third time this has happened in the UK in a decade.


Seven rare bee-eaters, a spectacularly colourful bird which usually breeds in southern Europe and Africa, turned up unexpectedly at CEMEX’s East Leake quarry near Loughborough on 25 June. Three nest holes have been seen in the quarry’s sandy bank.

On the afternoon of Wednesday 19 July RSPB wardens watching the nests noticed parent birds flying to and from one of the nest holes with food, indicating that young were being fed. The other two nests are now also on the verge of hatching and the RSPB expects all three will have young by the weekend.

Bee-eaters are rare visitors to the UK. Before the Millennium they had only appeared twice, but have since nested in Cumbria (2015), the Isle of Wight (2014), Herefordshire (2005) and Country Durham (2002). It is thought they are expanding their range north due to climate change.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Senior Investigations Officer, said: “These exotic birds – a kaleidoscope of greens, yellows, reds and blues – are much more likely to be seen in southern Europe or Africa rather than Nottinghamshire. But we’re delighted to see bee-eaters return to nest in the UK once more; a very rare occurrence that has wildlife enthusiasts very excited.”

Around 10,000 people are thought to have seen the Nottinghamshire bee-eaters, some travelling from as far afield as Cornwall and County Durham.

As their name suggests, bee-eaters feed predominately on bees and other flying insects like wasps and dragonflies. After catching a bee, the birds will toss it into the air or strike the bee against a branch to remove the string, rendering it safe to swallow.

Mark added: “Bee-eaters are sociable birds and nest together in small groups. Often pairs will enlist the help of a single, younger bird to help bring food and rear their chicks. Bringing up baby is very much a community effort.

“In recent years, bee-eater sightings have been on the increase. We believe the birds are being pushed northwards due to climate change, so are likely to become more established visitors to the UK in the future. And, thanks to this partnership with CEMEX, we can provide that right habitat for them.”

Bee-eaters and nest in burrows that reach up to 10ft (3m) often in sand banks, in which they lay 3-8 white eggs.

Andy Spencer, Sustainability Director at CEMEX, said: “Working quarries like this one offer the perfect home for bee-eaters and other birds like sand martins. On CEMEX quarry sites we build dedicated sand piles away from the operations where birds can make their nests and breed without interruption. We’re delighted to be hosting these charming visitors for the duration of their stay in the UK."   

Because the birds are so rare, round-the-clock protection was necessary to ensure the birds and their nests were not disturbed. Working closely with CEMEX, the RSPB deployed wardens to monitor the site day and night to ensure the safety of both birds and birdwatchers.

Mark Thomas explained: “By day, the nests were at risk from egg collectors, and by night the eggs – and now the chicks – are at risk of being taken by a fox. Fox prints were seen in the sand, so we posted wardens armed with torches on night watch to deter any predators that might be on the prowl. Sure enough, one night, a fox appeared near the nests, but was scared away by the torchlight. If we hadn’t been present, it would almost certainly have got the chicks.”

The nestlings are expected to fledge around mid-August, giving birdwatchers a chance to see them before the colony flies back to their southern territories.

To visit the bee-eaters, go to Ashby Road, East Leake, Notts LE12 6RG.

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