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Saturday, 24 August, 2002, 07:07 GMT 08:07 UK
Rare chicks take a bow
Bee-eater chick at mouth of tunnel
The chicks have been seen at the mouth of the tunnel
The first pair of bee-eaters to breed in Britain for 50 years have revealed their offspring to the public.

The adult birds - which have a distinctive kaleidoscopic plumage - are feeding at least four chicks.

The news has generated much excitement among the public, with 10,000 people from up to 20 countries visiting the County Durham site within one month.

For the last few weeks, the only sign there were chicks in the site were frequent visits from the parents, complete with beakfuls of bees.

But now the chicks' faces have been seen at the entrance to the burrow, as they prepare to leave it for the first time.

The RSPB says this indicates it may not be long before the birds start to fly.

Bee-eater facts
There are 26 species of bee-eater
The bee-eater catches bees and other insects on the wing
In the Gambia, West Africa, their name means "cousin to the fire" because of their attraction to bushfires
They don't usually like the UK, because they are "birds of the sun"

The pair arrived at the disused quarry in Bishop Middleham in June and within weeks keen birdwatchers saw signs they had hatched chicks.

The last time a breeding pair of bee-eaters were seen in the UK was in 1955 when two pairs nesting in a sandpit in Sussex raised seven chicks.

Bee-eaters raise their chicks underground, in burrows excavated in cliff faces and up to three metres long.

The chicks have been taking it in turns to come to the mouth of the tunnel to await food deliveries from the parent birds.

The RSPB and Durham Wildlife Trust have mounted a 24-hour guard on the nest since the birds started nesting at the reserve, near Sedgefield, in June.


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24 Jul 02 | England
11 Jun 02 | England
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