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: