“Parrots of the North” settle in the European Serengeti Nature Reserve. The European bee-eater is a new companion of wild horses

2020 - 10 - 01

The colourful European bee-eater, whose plumage is similar to that of tropical parrots, is beginning to settle in the large herbivore reserve called the European Serengeti. Ornithologists have repeatedly spotted these attractive birds during on-going biological monitoring.

European bee-eaters, also called the flying jewels of Europe by ornithologists, used to settle predominantly in the south of the continent. In the Czech Republic, for example, it nested in the south-east near the border with Austria. In recent years, however, it has been seen moving northward. “Among other factors, this is caused by climate change,” explains Miloslav Jirku from the Biological Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

The birds have been spotted with increased frequency in and around the large herbivore reserve located in Milovice north of Prague. “The European bee-eater was first spotted in the Milovice area in 2017, but in 2020 we are witnessing a literal explosion of their numbers during the nesting period. This year, European bee-eaters have been recorded in all main treeless areas of Milovice, often on the pastures of large hoofed animals. For example, a flock of at least sixteen European bee-eaters was photographed in mid-August,” adds Miloslav Jirku.

European bee-eaters have increased the number of protected species that regularly live in the large herbivore reserve. “European bee-eaters are one of the most attractive bird species that live in Central Europe. We are therefore glad that they have found a suitable home in the large herbivore reserve,” says Dalibor Dostal, head of the European Wildlife conservation organization.

Pastures of wild horses, European bison and back-bred aurochs contribute to a rich food supply for European bee-eaters. “European bee-eaters feed on insects that they catch mid-flight. Two hundred hectares of blossoming meadows, which have been restored by herds of large herbivores, are increasing the diversity of species and the overall number of insects, which are otherwise disappearing from the countryside. The same is true for bird species that feed on insects,” continues Dalibor Dostal.

About half of their food intake consists of hymenopterans such as wasps, hornets, bumblebees and honey bees, as well as dragonflies. European bee-eaters require steep slopes without vegetation, in which they dig out nesting burrows. “Flowery meadows restored by grazing are inhabited by many hymenopterans, and dragonflies have settled in created pools. Large herbivores also like to tear up turf with their hoofs and horns, creating bare banks that are well suited for the nests of European bee-eaters. It’s a combination of these various factors that makes Milovice pastures ideal for nesting colonies of European bee-eaters,” concludes Martin Salek from the Institute of Vertebrate Biology of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

The large herbivore reserve, dubbed the European Serengeti, was created in the former Milovice military area in 2015. It became the first place in the world to provide a joint home for three key native species of large European herbivores: wild horses, European bison and back-bred aurochs. The project has been rewarded with several prestigious prizes, such as the 2020 SDG award (for sustainable development goals) in the Climatic Change category.

The European Wildlife conservation organization is currently organising a campaign to complete the unique reserve. The public and the business community can make donations as part of a charitable fundraising project on the website eurowildlife.org/donate. In 2015, the location became the first place in the world where three key species of large ungulates – wild horses, European bison and back-bred aurochs – are found in one reserve. The reserve has grown from initial 40 hectares to 230 hectares, and another 120 hectares are to be incorporated in its final phase.

Photo: Tomas Grim

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