By Crystal Chung @crystalkchung

A COLONY of southern carmine bee-eaters create a blizzard of colour as they flock in their thousands

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Southern carmine bee-eaters create a blizzard of colour as they flock in their thousands

Shot in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia, by professional photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, the striking images show vast numbers of the birds gathering at breeding sites along the banks of the Luangwa River.

The richly feathered animals build their nests in the steep sandy riverbanks as each breeding pair excavate a tunnel up to a metre deep - with a small nesting chamber at the end.

The colonies, which can extend for a hundred metres or more, are often situated at points where the crocodile-infested Luangwa River flows up against the base of riverbank, making it hard for predators to approach them.

The incessant chirping of the birds can be heard more than a kilometre away
The beaufitul carmine bee-eaters perch along the Luangwa River

Wildlife photographer, Will, 32, first came across the colourful birds when spending a year in Zambia.

He said: “Often the carmine colonies are situated along the same stretch of river each year, but sometimes they do move if the course of the Luangwa River changes.

“The colonies aren’t hard to find by travelling along the banks of the river.

A colony of the stunning birds can often extend for a hundred meters or more

"The incessant chirping of the birds can be heard more than a kilometre away and the vibrant birds are easy to spot as they gather near their nests."

The birds are known to be highly sociable animals and are normally found in flocks both in and out of the breeding season.

They spend the year migrating between Zimbabwe, South Africa and further north. Their diet is made up primarily of bees and other flying insects which they fly out and grab from a perch.

A group of birds gather in a tree at a popular breeding ground

Several of the images show a blizzard of colour as the beautifully plumed birds flock together in the African dusk.

However these animals are not the easiest for photographers to capture on camera as they sit outside of river bends just above crocodile-infested water.

Will said: “There were several challenges involved in the project.

The colourful feathered animals fly through the air

"Some of the colonies were hard to access as they were on the outside of river bends and the croc-infested water flowed right up along the base of the colonies.

"This made it difficult to find suitable vantage points for my photographs.

“Photographing the birds themselves was also challenging, they fly very fast and it is hard to predict when they will launch themselves out of their nests.

The birds are known to be highly sociable animals and are normally found in flocks both in and out of the breeding season

"This made it difficult to track and focus on them, particularly when using my long telephoto lens to get close-up shots of them in flight."

Will Burrard-Lucas is a professional wildlife photographer. His work has taken him to wildlife hotspots around the world and he has recently released a new book titled “Top Wildlife Sites of the World”.

You can find out more about this book at www.topwildlifesites.com and view more of Will's work at www.burrard-lucas.com