This species, like other bee-eaters, is a richly coloured,striking bird, predominantly carmine in colouration, but with the crown and undertail coverts blue.
Its usual habitat included low-altitude river valleys and floodplains, preferring vertical banks suitable for tunneling when breeding. This is a highly sociable species, gathering in large flocks, in or out of breeding season. They roost communally in trees or reedbeds, and disperse widely during the day. Nesting is at the end of a 1-2m long burrow in an earthen bank, where the lay from 2-5 eggs.
This is migratory species, spending the breeding season, between August and November, in Zimbabwe, before moving south to South Africa for the summer months, and the migrating to equatorial Africa from March to August.
Their diet is made up primarily of bees and other flying insects, and their major hunting strategy involves hawking flying insects from perch. Perches may include branches of vegetation or even the backs of large animals, such as the Kori Bustard. They are attracted to wildfires because of the flushed insects, and are often seen circling high in the air.