Astonishing photo sequence depicts Bee-eater apparently preying on bat


This page contains 9 reader comments. Click here to view (latest Mon 06/07/15 15:38).

On Friday 26 June photographer Shuki Cheled was birding around the Judean plains with a Dutch birding friend. Near the village of Nahala the two encountered a European Bee-eater with something large in its bill. The bird eventually flew closer and the two were amazed to see that the prey was actually a bat! The bat was alive and flapping at first, and was probably a Kuhl's Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii).

The bee-eater proceeded to hit the bat against branches, as they do with wasps and bees, until the bat died. The bee-eater spent the following minutes trying to swallow the bat, flipping it over and over, without success. Eventually it flew off, with the bat still in its beak, so the eventual outcome remains unknown.

This is a truly remarkable story: European Bee-eaters are known to feed on many flying insects but rarely take terrestrial prey. They sometimes hunt termites, caterpillars and grubs, but never prey of this size. The only logical scenario I can think of is that the pipistrelle made the mistake of choosing to roost in the Bee-eater's nest cavity and the bird was simply trying to remove the threat, but who knows.

Thanks to Shuki for the wonderful images.

European Bee-eater with bat, probably Kuhl's Pipistrelle, Israel, 26 June 2015 (Photos: Shuki Cheled)

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hide section Reader comments (9)

Great story and pictures. I was in Italy once and saw juvenile Starlings trying to enter Bee-eater burrows - the Bee-eaters dragged them out and tried to drown them.
   Steve Portugal, 29/06/15 09:23Report inappropriate post Report 
great photos. amazing occurence.
   Alan Horsley, 29/06/15 14:25Report inappropriate post Report 
Remarkable photographs. Recently saw a Blackbird attack a largish butterfly, probably a Tortoiseshell, in flight in our suburban garden.
   Michael Clifford, 30/06/15 11:25Report inappropriate post Report 
A Blackbird with a largish butterfly - will top that with a Drongo chasing, capturing and shredding a Comet Moth, which had been disturbed by a member of our group in the Madagascan rainforest. We were all hoping the magnificent moth would escape, but could only watch in morbid fascination in a scaled scene almost comparable to a Serengeti big cat predatory chase. The Drongo pursued the moth across the clearing, the moth failing to out maneuver and being ripped apart, each large dismembered ghostly wing slowly tumbling to the ground whilst the body was devoured high above. Still doesn't trump the Bee-eater/bat though. One thing I've always wondered, if anyone knows - do any owls actively predate on any bats around the world?
   Ian Peckett, 02/07/15 09:15Report inappropriate post Report 
In Cuba the Stygian Owl (close relative of Long-eared Owl) preys on bats. A bird we observed for about 30 minutes at Playa GirĂ³n sat constantly looking upwards and swiveling its head about, which made it difficult to even see the bird's face. Once it flew off, upwards, but returned without prey to its branch. Absence of native small ground-living mammals on this Caribbean island is probably the reason for this unusual prey -- on the mainland Stygian Owls have a more expected diet of small rodents etc.
   Gail Mackiernan, 02/07/15 14:10Report inappropriate post Report 
In the UK, Barn Owls will sometimes take bats if they get the chance, but it's not a common prey item.
   Jon Turner, 02/07/15 17:53Report inappropriate post Report 
How about Great Crested Grebe catching low flying Sand Martins, then drowning and eating them as happened in County Durham a few weeks back!
   Paul Anderson, 03/07/15 11:59Report inappropriate post Report 
@Gail/Jon - thanks for the response - it always seemed to me that sharing similar nocturnal time slots, that it was always a likelihood, I suppose most evidence would come from pellets, rather than observation.
   Ian Peckett, 03/07/15 12:58Report inappropriate post Report 
My wife saw a Tawny Owl hunting bats as they returned to their roost in our roof very early one morning.
   Mr. KJ Turtill, 06/07/15 15:38Report inappropriate post Report 

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