Indian roller

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Indian roller
Indian roller (Coracias benghalensis) Photograph by Shantanu Kuveskar.jpg
C. b. indicus from Mangaon, Maharashtra, India
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Coraciidae
Genus: Coracias
C. benghalensis
Binomial name
Coracias benghalensis
Coracias benghalensis distr.png

Corvus benghalensis Linnaeus, 1758

The Indian roller (Coracias benghalensis) is a bird of the family Coraciidae, the rollers. It occurs widely from West Asia to the Indian Subcontinent. It is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List.[1] The Indochinese roller was formerly included as a subspecies.

It is best known for the aerobatic displays of males during the breeding season. It is often seen perched along roadside trees and wires and are commonly seen in open grassland and scrub forest habitats. The largest population occurs on several states in India, and have chosen it as their state bird.


Illustration of an Indian roller, ca. 1731

The Indian roller was one of the many bird species originally described by Carl Linnaeus in the 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae, where he coined the binomial name Corvus benghalensis.[2] Linnaeus based his description on the "Jay from Bengal" that had been described and illustrated in 1731 by the English naturalist Eleazar Albin, derived from a drawing by illustrator Joseph Dandridge, who in turn received a drawing from a namesake relative who resided at Fort St. George, India.[3]

In 1766, Linnaeus also described a roller from India under the name Coracias indica,[4] based on a description of George Edwards in his 1764 work Gleanings of Natural History, from a specimen collected in Sri Lanka.[5] The latter name was used for many years; Indian ornithologist Biswamoy Biswas suspected it was because Linnaeus' 12th edition of Systema Naturae had been preferred as the starting point for formal descriptions. German ornithologist Ernst Hartert determined there were distinct northern and southern subspecies and allocated benghalensis to the former and indicus to the latter. However, Biswas noted that the type locality for benghalensis was Madras, which actually lies within the range of the southern subspecies, and proposed a neotype be selected from Benghal (where Linnaeus had assumed the taxon had come from).[6] This was accepted by the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature in 1962.[7]

Two subspecies are recognized today:[8]

  • C. b. benghalensis (Linnaeus, 1758) occurs from western Asia to India north of the Vindhya Range.[9]
  • C. b. indicus Linnaeus, 1766 occurs in central and southern India and in Sri Lanka.[9]

The Indochinese roller (C. affinis) was often treated as a subspecies due to some hybridization between the two taxa over an area from western Assam to central Nepal,[9] however a 2018 molecular study of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA showed that the latter taxon was actually most closely related to the purple-winged roller (C. temminckii) while the Indian roller was their next closest relative, diverging for a lineage that gave rise to those two species.[10]


Indian roller in Kerala
The three forward pointing toes appear to be joined at the base

The Indian roller is a stocky bird around 26–27 cm (10–11 in) long and can only be confused within its range with the migratory European roller. The breast is brownish and not blue as in the European Roller. The crown and vent are blue. The primaries are deep purplish blue with a band of pale blue. The tail is sky blue with a terminal band of Prussian blue and the central feathers are dull green. The neck and throat are purplish lilac with white shaft streaks. The bare patch around the eye is ochre in colour. The three forward toes are united at the base.[9] Rollers have a long and compressed bill with a curved upper edge and a hooked tip. The nostril is long and exposed and there are long rictal bristles at the base of the bill.[11][12] Compared to the nominate subspecies, the southern race indicus is smaller in size, slightly darker in colouring and has a more distinct rufous band on the rear of the neck.[9]

The Indochinese roller is darker, larger and has a purplish brown and unstreaked face and breast.[9] It has underwing coverts in a deeper shade of blue.[11][13]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The Indian roller is distributed from Iraq and United Arab Emirates through the Indian Subcontinent, including Sri Lanka, Lakshadweep islands and Maldive Islands.[1] Its main habitat includes cultivated areas, thin forest and grassland.[9]

In the early 1970s, it was observed in the marshes and mudflats of Shadegan County in Iran where it was a common winter visitor.[14] In Bahrain, it was sighted in 1996 and in 2008.[15] As of 2015, about 2,500 breeding pairs were estimated to live in Iraq and 15,000 breeding pairs in the Arabian Peninsula; the population was thought to increase in particular in the United Arab Emirates.[16]

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

Indian roller showing its wings in flight.

The call of the Indian roller is a harsh crow-like chack sound. It also makes a variety of other sounds, including metallic boink calls. It is especially vociferous during the breeding season.[citation needed]

The Indian roller spends a few minutes preening followed by flying around its roosting site. It favours electric or telegraphic wires as perches. It has also been observed perching in trees and shrubs at a height of 3–9 m (10–30 ft) from where it forages for ground insects. It also uses higher perches in the upper canopy of trees.[17] The display of the Indian roller is aerobatic with twists and turns. Displays when perched include bill-up displays, bowing, allopreening, wing drooping and tail fanning. It is attracted by fires.[9] It has been observed to follow tractors for disturbed invertebrates. In agricultural habitats in southern India, it has been found at densities of about 50 birds per km2.[17][18][19]

It bathes in open water by plunge-diving into it, a behaviour often interpreted as fishing.[20][21][22] Occasionally, it attempts fishing from water.[13]


Oriental rollers breed in hollows or crevices in buildings.

The breeding season is March to June, slightly earlier in southern India.[9] Holes created by woodpeckers or wood boring insects in palms are favoured for nesting in some areas.[18] It tears open rotten tree trunks or cavities in buildings to build its nest inside.[11] The cavity is usually unlined and is made up mainly of debris from the wood. The clutch consists of 3–5 eggs which are white and broad oval or nearly spherical.[12] The average size is 33 mm × 27 mm (1.3 in × 1.1 in). The eggs are incubated mainly by the female beginning after the first egg is laid. They hatch asynchronously after 17 to 19 days. The young are fed by both parents and fledge after 30 to 35 days.[23]

Food and feeding[edit]

Indian roller eating a grasshopper

The Indian roller descends to the ground to capture insects, spiders, scorpions, small snakes and amphibians.[24][25][26] During summer, it also feeds late in the evening and makes use of artificial lights attracting insects.[27] It is attracted to swarms of winged termites, and as many as 40 birds have been seen to perch on a 70 m (230 ft) stretch of electric wire.[28] Beetles make up nearly 50% of its diet, followed by grasshoppers and crickets.[17][29] In Tamil Nadu, the Indian roller was observed to forage mainly by gleaning, followed by feeding on the ground and in the air.[30]


Leucocytozoon blood parasites have been recorded in the lung tissues.[31] Parasitic helminth worms Hadjelia truncata and Synhimantus spiralis were recorded as well.[32][33]


Its habit of feeding near roadsides sometimes results in collisions with traffic.[34][35] The numbers of the Indian roller sighted along the highway between Aligarh and New Delhi decreased between the mid 1960s and mid 1980s, while traffic increased during that time.[36]

In culture[edit]

The Indian roller is very common in the populated plains of India and associated with Hindu legends. It is said to be sacred to Vishnu, and used to be caught and released during festivals such as Dussera or the last day of Durga Puja.[37] A local Hindi name is neelkanth,[38] meaning "blue throat", a name associated with the deity Shiva (who drank poison resulting in the blue throat).[39][40] Adding its chopped feathers to grass and feeding them to cows was believed to increase their milk yield.[41] The Indian roller has been chosen as the state bird by the Indian states of Odisha, Karnataka and Telangana.[42][43]

In Iran, the Indian roller is protected by the Islamic code and called Little King among villagers in Khuzestan Province.[44]


  1. ^ a b c BirdLife International (2016). "Coracias benghalensis". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22725914A94905872. Retrieved 7 April 2021.
  2. ^ Linnaeus, C. (1758). "Corvus benghalensis". Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 106.
  3. ^ Albin, E.; Derham, W. (1731). A Natural History of Birds : Illustrated with a Hundred and One Copper Plates, Curiously Engraven from the Life. 1. London: Printed for the author and sold by William Innys. p. 17, Plate 17.
  4. ^ Linnaeus, C. (1766). "Coracias indica". Systema naturae : per regna tria natura, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). 1 (12th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 159.
  5. ^ Edwards, George (1764). Gleanings of Natural History. III. London: Printed for author at the Royal College of Physicians. pp. 247–248.
  6. ^ Biswas, B. (1961). "Proposal to designate a neotype for Corvus benghalensis Linnaeus, 1758 (Aves), under the plenary powers Z.N. (S) 1465". Bull. Zool. Nomencl. 18 (3): 217–219.
  7. ^ "Opinion 663: Corvus benghalensis Linnaeus, 1758 (Aves): Designation of a neotype under the plenary powers". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. 20 (3): 195–196. 1962.
  8. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (January 2021). "Rollers, ground rollers, kingfishers". IOC World Bird List Version 11.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 5 April 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Rasmussen, P. C.; Anderton, J. C. (2012). "Attributes and Status". Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. 2 (Second ed.). Washington D.C. and Barcelona: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and Lynx Edicions. p. 270. ISBN 978-84-96553-87-3.
  10. ^ Johansson, U. S.; Irestedt, M.; Qu, Y.; Ericson, P. G. P. (2018). "Phylogenetic relationships of rollers (Coraciidae) based on complete mitochondrial genomes and fifteen nuclear genes". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 126: 17–22. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2018.03.030. PMID 29631051.
  11. ^ a b c Baker, E.C.S. (1927). "Coracias garula". The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. 4. Birds (Second ed.). Taylor & Francis, London. pp. 222–227.
  12. ^ a b Whistler, H. (1949). Popular handbook of Indian birds (Fourth ed.). London: Gurney and Jackson. pp. 293–295.
  13. ^ a b Ali, S. & Ripley, S. D. (1983). Handbook of the birds of India and Pakistan. 4 (Second ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 116–120.
  14. ^ Scott, D. A. (2001). The birds of Shadegan Marshes and adjacent tidal mudflats (PDF) (Report). Gland, Switzerland: Ramsar Convention Secretariat.
  15. ^ Balmer, D. & Murdoch, D. (2009). "Around the Region" (PDF). Sandgrouse (1): 91–103.
  16. ^ Symes, A.; Taylor, J.; Mallon, D.; Porter, R.; Simms, C. & Budd, K. (2015). The conservation status and distribution of the breeding birds of the Arabian peninsula (PDF). Cambridge, UK; Gland, Switzerland; Sharjah, United Arab Emirates: IUCN and Environment and Protected Areas Authority.
  17. ^ a b c Sivakumaran, N. & Thiyagesan, K. (2003). "Population, diurnal activity patterns and feeding ecology of the Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis (Linnaeus, 1758)". Zoos' Print Journal. 18 (5): 1091–1095. doi:10.11609/jott.zpj.18.5.1091-5.
  18. ^ a b Mathew, D.N.; Narendran, T.C. & Zacharias, V.J. (1978). "A comparative study of the feeding habits of certain species of Indian birds affecting agriculture". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 75 (4): 1178–1197.
  19. ^ Burton, P. K. J. (1984). "Anatomy and evolution of the feeding apparatus in the avian orders Coraciiformes and Piciformes". Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Zoology Series. 47 (6): 331–443.
  20. ^ Tiwari, N.K. (1930). "Bathing habit of the Indian Roller (Coracias benghalensis)". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 34 (2): 578–579.
  21. ^ Dalgliesh, G. (1911). "Roller catching its prey in the water". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 20 (3): 853.
  22. ^ Radcliffe, H. D. (1910). "Roller catching its prey in the water". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 20 (1): 225–226.
  23. ^ Cramp 1985, p. 782.
  24. ^ Sharga, U.S. (1936). "Indian Roller or Blue Jay (Coracias benghalensis Linn.) feeding on a scorpion". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 39 (1): 179.
  25. ^ Evans, G.H. (1921). "The food of the Burmese Roller (C. affinis) and of the Ashy Drongo (D. nigrescens)". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 27 (4): 955–956.
  26. ^ Biddulph, C.H. (1937). "The Southern Indian Roller or Blue Jay Coracias benghalensis indica (Linn.) killing a small snake". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 39 (4): 865.
  27. ^ Bharos, A.M.K. (1992). "Feeding by Common Nightjar Caprimulgus asiaticus and Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis in the light of mercury vapour lamps". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 89 (1): 124.
  28. ^ Bharos, A.M.K. (1990). "Unusually large congregation and behaviour of Indian Rollers Coracias benghalensis". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 87 (2): 300.
  29. ^ Asokan, S.; Ali, A.M.S. & Manikannan, R. (2009). "Preliminary investigations on diet and breeding biology of the Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis in a portion of Cauvery delta, Tamil Nadu, India". World Journal of Zoology. 4 (4): 263–269.
  30. ^ Asokan, S. & Ali, A.M.S. (2010). "Foraging behavior of selected insectivorous birds in Cauvery Delta region of Nagapattinam District, Tamil Nadu, India". Journal of Threatened Taxa. 2 (2): 690–694. doi:10.11609/jott.o2201.690-4.
  31. ^ De Mello, I. F. & Emidio, A. (1935). "Blood parasites of Coracias b. benghalensis with special remarks on its two types of Leucocytozoon" (PDF). Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences, Section B. 2: 67–73.
  32. ^ Junker, K. & Boomker, J. (2007). "A check list of the helminths of guineafowls (Numididae) and a host list of these parasites" (PDF). Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research. 74 (4): 315–337. doi:10.4102/ojvr.v74i4.118. PMID 18453241. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 June 2011.
  33. ^ Bhatia, B.L. (1938). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Protozoa. 1. London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 240–241.
  34. ^ Goenka, D. (1986). "Lack of traffic sense amongst Indian Rollers". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 83 (3): 665.
  35. ^ Sundar, K.S.G. (2004). "Mortality of herpetofauna, birds and mammals due to vehicular traffic in Etawah District, Uttar Pradesh, India". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 101 (3): 392–398.
  36. ^ Saiduzzafar, H. (1984). "Some observations on the apparent decrease in numbers of the Northern Roller or Blue Jay Coracias benghalensis". Newsletter for Birdwatchers. 24 (5&6): 4–5.
  37. ^ Kipling, J. L. (1904). "The Roller". Beast and man in India; a popular sketch of Indian animals in their relations with the people. London: Macmillan and Co. p. 33.
  38. ^ Blanford, W. T. (1889). "Coracias indica. The Indian Roller". The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Birds Volume 3. Taylor & Francis, London. pp. 103–105.
  39. ^ Mitra, S. C. (1898). "Bengali and Behari Folk-lore about Birds. Part I.". Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 67 (2): 67–74.
  40. ^ Anonymous (1998). "Vernacular Names of the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent". Buceros. 3 (1): 53–109.
  41. ^ Thurston, E. (1912). "The Indian roller (Coracias indica)". Omens and superstitions of southern India. New York: McBride, Nast and Company. p. 88.
  42. ^ "States and Union Territories Symbols". National Informatics Centre (NIC), DeitY, MoCIT, Government of India. Archived from the original on 12 November 2013. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  43. ^ "State Symbols". Telangana State Portal. Government of Telangana. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  44. ^ Goodell, G. (1979). "Bird Lore in Southwestern Iran". Asian Folklore Studies. 38 (2): 131–153. doi:10.2307/1177687. JSTOR 1177687.


  • Cramp, Stanley, ed. (1985). "Coracias benghalensis Indian roller". Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Volume IV: Terns to Woodpeckers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 778–783. ISBN 978-0-19-857507-8.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lamba, B.S. (1963). "The nidification of some common Indian birds. 5. The Indian Roller or Blue Jay (Coracias benghalensis Linn.)". Research Bulletin of the Panjab University. 14 (1–2): 21–28.
  • Stonor, C.R. (1944). "A note on the breeding habits of the Indian Roller, Coracias benghalensis (Linnaeus)". Ibis. 86 (1): 94–97.

External links[edit]