European Roller (Coracias garrulus)
(Photo by Wild@Heart, used with permission)
Afrikaans: Europese Troupant
French: Rollier d'Europe
Palearctic from SW-E Europe to Kirghiz Steppes and Turkestan (although absent from the area between the Caspian and Aral seas). Range includes western China, the Mediterranean region, Near and Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, as well as Africa. An intercontinental migrant, with almost the entire world population wintering in sub-Saharan Africa.
The European Roller differs from the Lilac-breasted Roller
and Racket-tailed Roller
in having an all-blue head and a square-ended tail. Juvenile Racket-tailed may appear similar when the tail streamers are absent, but that species has a distinctive, white-streaked forehead and a green (not blue) crown and nape.
Male and female European Rollers are alike. The juvenile is more olive-green in colour.
Unlike other members of the genus which are mostly solitary, often many European Rollers are within sight of each other in bushveld. Outside the breeding season the bird travels in loose flocks. It sometimes roosts communally. They use a shrike-type approach to feeding, pouncing from an open perch on passing prey. They eat their prey on the ground or carry it back to the perch. It occationally catches prey in flight.
They are mainly insectivorous but will tackle scorpions, frogs, lizards and even small birds. Flight is sluggish but buoyant. When displaying the European Roller flies with the twists and turns that give the species its English name.
Normally silent in the region but when alarmed it will give a "krack-krack" call.
dry wooded savanna and bushy plains (i.e. during the migration period). In their breeding range the species prefers lowland open countryside with patches of oak forest, mature pine woodland with heathery clearings, orchards, mixed farmland, river valleys, and plains with scattered thorny or leafy trees.
Nests in holes in trees or rock faces. Clutches of 1-3, sometimes 4, white eggs. Both sexes appear to incubate and provide for the young which leave the nest hole after about 25-30 days. In many cases woodpeckers are evicted from their nests and battles with other hole nesting birds, such as small owls and kingfishers, are not uncommon.
Common summer visitor. While they are present throughout their migration period (October - April/May) it is during March and April that they are most noticeable. This is not just because they are starting to come into full breeding plumage but also because they are present in huge numbers, significantly outnumbering the resident species.
Near threatened (2005 IUCN Red List Category, as evaluated by BirdLife International - the official Red List Authority for birds for IUCN).
With few exceptions, the species continued to decline across most of its European range during 1990-2000, including key populations in Turkey and Russia, and probably underwent a large decline (>30%) overall.
Studies show that because of traditional farming methods being replaced by monoculture and the use of pesticides, the large insects which form 90% of the European Roller diet, have disappeared. The decline in grazing by sheep is another factor that has influenced insect populations - large insects disappear due to the loss of open habitat.
More information about the European Rollers' migration
, including a map, can be found here
Edit: edited and added links.
edit by gwen: image disappeared