EUROPEAN ROLLER

Bear with me: you are going to see the same bird four times in this post mainly because I only saw this one, but because this is the first time I have sighted this bird in the Eastern Cape – previously it has only appeared on my list of birds seen in the Kruger National Park – so of course I feel excited about it! As its name suggests, the European Roller (Coracias garrulous) is a migrant to this country. They start arriving in South Africa from about October and ready themselves for the long journey back to Europe, where they breed, once the cooler temperatures set in from March – another reason why I feel so fortunate having spotted this particular one.

Apart from some of the perils they must face during their annual trek from Europe to South Africa and back, there has been concern about the decline in their numbers because of threats to their northern breeding grounds. These include the loss of suitable breeding habitat thanks to agricultural practices, including the widespread use of pesticides. As these birds eat insects such as butterflies, bees, beetles, wasps, locusts and ants, the pesticides used to ‘protect’ crops will obviously also reduce the availability of their food [how we under-estimate the value of insects!]. At one stage they were regarded as being Near-threatened, but in 2008 the IUCN and Birdlife International down-listed them to Least Concern.

The European Roller is not as colourful as the other rollers we see here, yet its appearance is a pretty combination of subtle variations of blue and tan. In South Africa they are usually seen in grasslands and open woodland, typically perched on an exposed branch or a fence from which they can swoop down to hawk their prey. This one was sitting on a fence post and, once it seemed to have caught something, it flew to the next post and then back to the first one.

The light was not particularly good on this late overcast afternoon and so I could not immediately identify what bird I was seeing until I had downloaded the photographs, lightened them a little and compared them with the photographs in my 2009 copy of Complete Photographic Field Guide Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan. Other pictures and useful information can be accessed at these two sites:

https://dewetswild.com/2018/11/26/european-roller/

https://www.birdlife.org.za/what-we-do/landscape-conservation/what-we-do/flagship-species/european-roller/

28 thoughts on “EUROPEAN ROLLER

    • It really was. I could tell it was an unusual bird to see in these parts, but as the light was not good I wasn’t sure of my identification until I could see my photographs on the computer screen.

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  1. This time of year is so exciting with bird migration gearing up. We have had an influx of Little Gulls ‘Hydrocoloeus minutus’. By that I mean there has been 3 in our area the past week or so. It is rare here in the middle of the USA where I live. They rarely drop in our area on their way to their Northern breeding grounds. It is an exceptional year for them.
    I can imagine your excitement. This European Roller is a handsome bird. It has a huge bill. It looks like it could eat mice, voles and other little creepy crawlies.
    Is the field guide you mentioned the one you usually use? I will ask for it as a gift for my birthday if you think it is the best one for your area.
    My husband’s Uncle went to Africa once. I don’t remember where but he loved it and encouraged us to go sometime.

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    • It is interesting to be out during this time of seasonal change and migration of birds. I nonetheless feel fortunate to have spotted this one on its own. If you are wanting photographic illustrations of South African birds simply for interest, then the latest edition of the guide I mentioned is a good one that will give you an idea of the beautiful birds that occur in South Africa. I presume you have local bird guides.

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    • Thank you very much, Belinda. They needed a little tweaking light-wise as the reflection of the cloud cover was not very favourable. It was a happy sighting for me.

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  2. What a lucky find, Anne! We were also surprized to find these birds with regularity at Addo and Mountain Zebra National Parks in December – didn’t know they made it that far south in such numbers. Other summer migrants are also picking up it seems – we’ve never before seen so many Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters at St. Lucia as we did in January, and there are even reports of them being seen in flocks in the Eastern and Western Cape this year. I wonder how much climate change has to do with that.

    (Thanks also for the link back to our blog – much appreciated!)

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    • Gosh, Dries, I have not seen these rollers at Addo before so that is good news that you did both there and at Mountain Zebra National Park. As they are getting ready to return to Europe now, I will keep an eye out for them later in the year 🙂

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