The swallow-tailed bee-eater is a bright and slender bird with a unique plumage color and a forked tail. The main color of the plumage is green, the throat is yellow, the stripe around the neck is blue, a black stripe passes through the eyes. The beak is also black. Body length is 20-22 cm, including long, green or blue tail feathers. There is no sexual dimorphism. Females are slightly paler, the stripe on the neck is thinner, and the fork tail is smaller. In young birds, the neck is whitish, the stripe on the neck is absent and the tail is smaller. The subspecies Merops hirundineus heuglini the stripe on the neck is darker blue than in the subspecies of the southern populations.
The swallow-tailed bee-eater feeds mainly on insects, in particular, bees, wasps and hornets, which it catches in the air from an ambush. Birds prefer to feed on honey bees. They often hunt in packs and have joint sleeping places.
Swallow-tailed bee-eaters nest in pairs or very small colonies on sandy river banks. Here, at the end of the dry season, they dig a relatively long tunnel in which they lay 2 or 4 spherical, white eggs. Chicks become independent even before the start of the rainy season.
There are 4 subspecies:
- M. hirundineus chrysolaimus Jardine & Selby, 1830 - eastern Senegal to northern Central African Republic.
- M. hirundineus heuglini (Neumann, 1906) - northeastern Zaire, northern Uganda, southern Sudan and southwestern Ethiopia.
- M. hirundineus furcatus Stanley, 1814 - southern Zaire, northern Tanzania and southeastern Kenya to Angola and Mozambique.
- M. hirundineus hirundineus - southern Angola, southwestern Zambia and western Zimbabwe to southern South Africa (Cape province).