I cannot say enough about African bird life and the Southern Carmine Bee-eater is easily one of its more striking members. I had never seen one prior to my 2021 scouting trip and I was particularly eager to see them in Zambia as their colonies in South Luangwa National Park are famous. Here, dozens to hundreds of these birds gather to breed in colonies consisting of closely-spaced cavities that individual pairs burrow into vertical banks of this large river during the dry season. It is possible to approach these colonies on a walking safari and literally overlook them. What we can see is nothing short of dazzling!

One can approach a colony from above on a walking safari. Turn up the volume to hear their vocalizations.

The bird alternate between bouts of rest and restlessness, when all of the adults may sally forth over the river before returning to their cavities.

Southern Carmine Bee-eater

Then they settle back at the colony.

Southern Carmine Bee-eater
Within a cavity, each pair will rear typically raise 2-5 young. While they are well-protected, it doesn’t mean that predators aren’t around. I discovered this while watching this colony and noticing that they seemed suddenly upset! You might notice something slithering by at the bottom of the bank in this video:

It was a Nile Monitor lizard!
Nile Monitor lizard
It would surely prey on any hapless nestlings that might fall out from a cavity. That is a rare event, however, and I think this lizard was unsuccessful! Eventually it left and the birds settled back down again.

Southern Carmine Bee-eater

The sight of these birds is truly arresting and a welcome contrast to the land at the end of the dry season when the landscape is thirsting for colour ahead of the rains. Colony locations can change from year to year with the destruction of old banks during high water season and the creation of new vertical riverbank faces. However, we will be within the correct region for a good chance at approaching a colony of “carmines”! Consider joining our Zambia tour in late 2023 for your chance at this quintessential African experience.

The best time to visit Zambia to view this amazing sight is from September through mid-November.

Zambia: Insider’s Africa
October 31 - November 11, 2023 
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