This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly-coloured, slender bird. It has brown and yellow upper parts, whilst the wings are green and the beak is black. It can reach a length of 27-29 cm, including the two elongated central tail feathers. Sexes are alike.
This is a bird which breeds in open country in warmer climates. Just as the name suggests, bee-eaters predominantly eat insects, especially bees, wasps and hornets, which are caught in the air by sorties from an open perch. Before eating its meal, a European Bee-eater removes the sting by repeatedly hitting the insect on a hard surface. It eats some 250 bees daily.
These bee-eaters are gregarious, nesting colonially in sandy banks, preferably near river shores, usually at the beginning of May. They make a relatively long tunnel in which the 5 to 8, spherical white eggs are laid around the beginning of June. Both the male and the female take care of the eggs, which are brooded for 7 days. These birds also feed and roost communally.
The call is a pleasant distinctive trill.
It has been classically described as afraid of man, thus tending to avoid him, but recent observations record that it is often seen apparently playing with cars, sometimes following them. After rain, indeed, it can get closer to human villages, looking for beehives. The bee-eater is obviously resented by bee keepers, but is reputed an important component in balancing local bio-systems.