Nesting bee-eaters bring touch of the exotic to mining village

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A pair of the Continent's most flamboyant birds have become the first of their species to breed successfully in Britain for nearly 50 years.

A pair of the Continent's most flamboyant birds have become the first of their species to breed successfully in Britain for nearly 50 years.

The two bee-eaters found their perfect breeding ground in a disused quarry at Bishop Middleham, County Durham, where their kaleidoscopic plumage has become a regular sight. They arrived six weeks ago after overshooting on their migration from Africa to the Mediterranean and nested in the former quarry, which is now a nature reserve.

Bee-eaters lay their eggs in burrows and the conditions in the quarry were so suited to their needs that they have hatched chicks. They are the first to breed successfully since three pairs settled in a Sussex sandpit in 1955. A pair attempted to breed in Midlothian in 1920, but the female died. Normally the birds nest no further north than Paris.

Thousands of birdwatchers are expected to descend on the quarry in the hope of seeing the chicks emerge from the burrow and viewing platforms have been built. Beehives have been installed to give the new family an ample food supply and a 24-hour surveillance operation has been launched to deter egg thieves.

Chris Mead, consultant to the British Trust for Ornithology, said climate change might be behind the birds' success.

"These two birds are very conspicuous and rather lovely. The presence of bee-eaters in Britain in such numbers is unprecedented and global warming might have something to do with it.

"We hope that the bee-eaters will become regular breeders in this country."

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said that although there were higher numbers of bee-eaters in Britain than usual, it was unlikely to be because of global warming. If they were brought to England by warmer temperatures, there would be more along the south coast, about 200 miles north of their normal nesting area, he said.

Mark Thomas, of the RSPB species protection area, said: "Bee-eaters are stunning birds and to have a pair nesting again in the UK after nearly half a century is an amazing event. The bee-eaters have brought a brilliant splash of unexpected colour to northern England this year."

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