Rare bee-eater birds make 'unprecedented' return to Norfolk as RSPB fears climate change responsible

Undated handout photo issued by the RSPB of a bee-eater in flight. Rare bee-eater chicks have hatched in a Norfolk quarry in a "vivid reminder" of climate change, conservationists have said. The colourful birds normally nest in southern Europe and northern Africa, but there has been a notable increase in nesting attempts by the species further north, including in the UK, in the past 20 years as the world warms, the RSPB said.
The bee-eaters are known by some as "rainbow birds" due to their bright colours. Credit: Mike Edgecombe/RSPB

Rare bee-eater birds have returned to the same nesting site in the UK for the first time ever.

The colourful birds, which are usually found in North Africa or the Mediterranean, have come back to UK shores as experts say it is now too hot in their normal habitats.

Bee-eaters first bred in Norfolk last year and the RSPB has described their return to the same site as "unprecedented".

Three of the birds, including a nesting pair, have been spotted again in a sand quarry near Cromer. It is the first time they have returned to the same breeding site in the UK in consecutive years.

The birds are being monitored by the RSPB and local volunteers from the North-East Norfolk Bird Club to allow them to breed undisturbed.

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, but they put on a great show as they leap 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.

The colourful birds normally nest in southern Europe and northern Africa. Credit: RSPB

"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."

But Mr Thomas said the birds' return was not necessarily all good news.

"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," he added.

Bee-eater factfile

How big is a bee-eater?

About the size of a starling, bee-eaters can be identified by their red backs, blue bellies and yellow throats.

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Do they just eat bees?

No - as well as bees, they feed on dragonflies and other flying insects, which they catch in mid-air.

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If they eat bees, how do they avoid being stung?

They have evolved plenty of protection. The feathers on their head are similar to scales. They also manipulate the bee and remove the venom sac before eating it.

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How does their colony work?

The bee-eaters tend to live in colonies, and while they usually mate for life, they do often get help with looking after their young from other birds in the colony.

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How long will they stay?

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.

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A special viewing area has been set up for anyone who wants to try to see the birds.