Species profile

Rainbow bee-eater

Rainbow bee-eater

Range and abundance

The Rainbow Bee-eater is widely distributed throughout mainland Australia, as well as from eastern Indonesia through to Papua New Guinea, in the Bismarck Archipelago and, rarely, in the Solomon Islands. Overall, the global extent of occurrence is estimated at 1,000,000 to 10,000,000 km2 and the species is considered to be seasonally common and locally abundant throughout much of its range. The majority of the global population breeds in Australia. There are no published estimates of the global or Australian population sizes; however, it is assumed to be quite large. The Australian population is not distinct, with an unknown proportion of the population migrating to Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia for the non-breeding period.


As a result of their vivid blue and green colouration, Rainbow Bee-eaters are often described as ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous’. Animals of this species can be distinguished by their brightly coloured plumage, finely curved bill, red eye, orange-yellow throat and tail-shafts (fine extensions off the back of the animals’ tails). Males measure 25 cm in length and females 22 cm, which classifies the species as medium-sized. Adult males and females are similar in appearance but can usually be distinguished by the difference in body length and by the fact that a female’s tail-shafts are shorter, thicker and have broader tips than those of a male. 


Rainbow Bee-eaters are found in a range of habitats, including open woodlands, sand ridges, riverbanks, road-cuttings, beaches, dunes, cliffs, mangroves, rainforest, woodlands and golf courses. Animals are usually seen in pairs or small flocks. However, when they are migrating, individuals may occur in groups of 500 birds. The species is a breeding resident in northern Australia and a summer migrant to south-eastern and south-western Australia. Breeding occurs in October-February in southern Australia, and up to twice a year (Sept – Oct, May-July) in northern Australia.


No specific threats to the species have been identified in Australia or elsewhere.


What is AWC doing?

AWC does not undertake any specific management for this species. However, its presence is noted during any bird surveys that may be undertaken at a specific sanctuary. 



Caley, N.W. (1984). What Bird is That? Angus and Robertson Publishers, Sydney, Australia.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (2001). Handbook of the Birds of the World: Mousebirds to Hornbills. 6. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.

Higgins, P.J. (ed.) (1999). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume Four - Parrots to Dollarbird. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Pizzey, G. and Knight, F. (1999). Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. HarperCollinsPublishers Pty Ltd, Sydney, Australia. 

Did you know:

Rainbow Bee-eaters lay their eggs in burrows that are located in sandy ground, in a bank or in a road cutting. Individuals usually nest in colonies that may contain up to 50 pairs. Occasionally, individual pairs (perhaps the less sociable ones!) nest solitarily.