|Distribution of the European roller |
summer C. g. garrulus
summer C. g. semenowi
The European roller is found in a wide variety of habitats, avoiding only treeless plains. It winters primarily in dry wooded savanna and bushy plains, where it typically nests in tree holes.
Taxonomy and systematics
The rollers are medium-sized Old World birds of open woodland habitats. They have brightly coloured plumage and a hooked bill. Most are found south of the Sahara. The genus Coracias contains eight species of sit-and-wait hunters. The European roller is similar in appearance and behaviour to the Abyssinian roller, which appears to be its closest relative. These two birds and the lilac-breasted roller seem to share a common ancestry and could possibly be considered to form subspecies.
The European roller was described by Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae under its current name. The generic name derives from Greek korakias referring to a type of crow, perhaps the red-billed chough. The specific epithet garrulus is from Latin and means 'chattering' or 'noisy'. Alternate names include the blue roller, common roller, Eurasian roller, or simply roller.
- Western European roller (C. g. garrulus) - Linnaeus, 1758: The nominate subspecies. Found in north-western Africa, southern Europe and east through north-western Iran to south-western Siberia.
- Eastern European roller (C. g. semenowi) - Loudon & Tschusi, 1902: Also named the Kashmir roller. Found in Iraq and southern Iran east through Kashmir and southern Kazakhstan to Xinjiang in western China.
The European roller is a stocky bird, the size of a jackdaw at 29–32 cm in length with a 52–58 cm wingspan; it is mainly blue with an orange-brown back. Rollers often perch prominently on trees, posts or overhead wires, like giant shrikes, whilst watching for the large insects, small reptiles, rodents and frogs that they eat. The diet of adult rollers is dominated by Coleoptera, whereas nestlings mostly eat Orthoptera, such as grasshoppers and bush crickets.
This species is striking in its strong direct flight, with the brilliant blue contrasting with black flight feathers. Sexes are similar, but the juvenile is a drabber version of the adult.
The display of this bird is like that of a lapwing, with the twists and turns that give this species its English name. It nests in an unlined tree or cliff hole, and lays up to six eggs.
The call is a harsh crow-like sound. It gives a raucous series of calls when nervous.
Distribution and habitat
The European roller is a bird of warmer regions. The nominate subspecies breeds in northern Africa from Morocco to Tunisia, in southern and east-central Europe, and eastwards through northwestern Iran to southwestern Siberia. The subspecies C. g. semenowi breeds from Iraq and southern Iran east through Kashmir and southern Kazakhstan to Xinjiang. The European range was formerly more extensive, but there has been a long-term decline in the north and west, with extinction as a nesting bird in Sweden and Germany. The European roller is a long-distance migrant, wintering in Africa south of the Sahara in two distinct regions, from Senegal east to Cameroon and from Ethiopia west (with observations in the Degua Tembien mountains) to Congo and south to South Africa. Some populations migrate to Africa through India. A collision with an aircraft over the Arabian Sea has been recorded.
It is a bird of warm, dry, open country with scattered trees, preferring lowlands, but occurs up to 1000 m (3300 ft) in Europe and 2000 m (6600 ft) in Morocco. Oak and pine woodlands with open areas are prime breeding habitat, but farms, orchards and similar areas with mixed vegetation are also used. In Africa, a similarly wide range of dry, open land with trees is used. It winters primarily in dry, wooded savanna and bushy plains, where it typically nests in tree holes.
The advent of sufficiently lightweight tracking technology has facilitated several recent studies of roller migration, providing new information on the non-breeding sites used by rollers from different breeding populations. Individuals from south-west European populations migrate to south-west Africa (Angola, Namibia, and Botswana), with French and north-Spanish birds taking a direct southerly route across the Sahara, while Portuguese and south-Spanish birds take a more westerly route around the west African coast. Rollers from eastern European populations also spend the winter period in southern Africa, but further east in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. The Sahel savannah region immediately south of the Sahara Desert (particularly the area around Lake Chad) appears to be important for rollers from many populations as an autumn re-fuelling site, and Latvian and other north and north-eastern populations migrate northwards via the Arabian Peninsula in spring. Individuals from different breeding populations use distinct but overlapping winter sites; there is a good correlation between the longitude of individual breeding and non-breeding sites, suggesting parallel migration. In the east, the northernmost breeders (from Latvia) tend to winter south of the southernmost breeders (from Cyprus) - this suggests a pattern of 'leap-frog' migration.
The Eurasian roller has an extensive distribution in Europe and western Asia, and its European breeding population is estimated at 159,000 to 330,000 birds. When Asian breeders are added, this gives a global total population of 277,000 to 660,000 individuals. There have been fairly rapid population declines across much of its range, so it was formerly classified as near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2005; it has, however, been downlisted to least concern in 2015, as population development was judged to not meet the criteria for a more urgent rating at this time. The European population declined by 25 percent between 1990 and 2000. The northern areas of the breeding range have fared worst, with numbers in the Baltic states and northern Russia collapsing, and no birds left breeding in Estonia.
Threats include hunting while on migration around the Mediterranean, and large numbers, possibly in the thousands, are killed for food in Oman. Agricultural practices have led to the loss of trees and hedges which provide potential nest sites and perches for hunting, and pesticides have reduced the availability of insect food. At locations where foraging resources are abundant, providing nest boxes can be a useful short-term conservation solution; however, in other locations foraging habitat restoration is more important. 
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- Fry, C Hilary; Fry, Kathie; Harris, Alan (1992). Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Rollers. London: Helm. ISBN 978-0-7136-8028-7.
- Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
- Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata (in Latin). Holmiae: Laurentii Salvii.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Coracias garrulus.|
|Wikispecies has information related to Coracias garrulus|
- European roller - Species text in The Atlas of Southern African Birds.
- European roller videos, photos & sounds on the Internet Bird Collection
- Oiseaux Photos
- Ageing and sexing (PDF; 4.5 MB) by Javier Blasco-Zumeta & Gerd-Michael Heinze
- Photos, audio and video of European roller from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library