Birds Of Iraq: Fred’s Spotted Wonder Chickens

Aka the Blue-Cheeked Bee Eater, aka Merops precious, Merops supercilious, or perhaps even Merops Philippines. Depending on which school of nomenclature one ascribes to, or where one happens to be in the world upon spotting a representative individual.

bcbecoll1 Nomenclature lumpers in Iraq, India and Madagascar, as well as Birds of the Middle East, declare that similar looking bee-eaters in those three countries are all Blue-Cheeked Bee-Eaters; Merops supercilious.

Nomenclature splitters, and the authors of Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Rollers, prefer to separate those widely-spaced individuals into two or perhaps three species; in Iraq, the Blue-Cheeked Bee-Eater, Merops persicus; the Madagascar Bee-Eater in Madagascar, Merops superciliosus; and the Blue-Tailed Bee-Eater in India, Merops Philippines, or even Merops supercilious Philippines.

Madagascar and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters are often treated as belonging to Merops precious. Blue-cheeked and Blue-tailed Bee-eaters do not, however, hybridise where they meet on breeding grounds in northwest India, and so they are separate species. Madagascar Bee-eaters could be regarded as a third full species, or united with Blue-cheeked or with Blue-tailed; we prefer the third course (Fry 1984). This complex of bee-eaters varies mainly in respect of facial colours and rump colour.

To confuse matters further, the bird does not rely on bees as a primary food source.

Bees and wasps feature importantly, but this bird is more a dragonfly-eater than a bee-eater. Even on their desert nesting grounds they eat numerous dragonflies and damselflies; also many kinds of small and large bees and wasps, ants, cicadas,-water-scorpions and other bugs, grass-hoppers, locusts, mantises, beetles, moths and butterflies.

Regardless of where they are or what one calls them–one may classify them as Fred’s Spotted Wonder Chickens if one feels the need. There are no nomenclature police–Iraq’s version of this species is a bird of the open country, preferring habitats located along the edges of arid scrub, semi-desert, steppe and farmlands, especially those characterized by the presence of Acacia and other thorn trees, or the Saltbush Salvadora persica. Hence the name “persicus,” which, if read strictly, means the species really ought to be known as the “Saltbush Bee-Eaters,” though Latin fans would likely insist that “Persistent Bee-Eaters” is the only truly correct naming convention.

The collage below, a testament to my photoshop skills–or the lack thereof–was composed of pictures of Bee-Eaters sent in by LTC Bob over the weekend.

Kingfishers, Bee-Eaters and Rollers all belong to the avian order Coraciiformes. With the addition of the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, we’re a third of the way through the list of Coraciiformes species one could reasonably expect to see in Iraq, according to the Avibase listing for that country–even farther along if one goes by sightings, rather than photos.