European roller

European roller
Adult with a centipede
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Coraciidae
Genus: Coracias
Species: C. garrulus
Binomial name
Coracias garrulus
Linnaeus, 1758
  • C. g. garrulus
  • C. g. semenowi

The European roller (Coracias garrulus) is the only member of the roller family of birds to breed in Europe. Its overall range extends into the Middle East and Central Asia and Morocco.

There are two subspecies: the nominate garrulus, which breeds from in north Africa from Morocco east to Tunisia, southwest and south-central Europe and Asia Minor east through northwest Iran to southwest Siberia; and semenowi, which breeds in Iraq and Iran (except northwest) east to Kashmir and north to Turkmenistan, south Kazakhstan and northwest China (west Xinjiang). The European roller is a long-distance migrant, wintering in southern Africa in two distinct regions, from Senegal east to Cameroon and from Ethiopia west to Congo and south to South Africa.

It is a bird of warm, dry, open country with scattered trees, preferring lowland open countryside with patches of oak Quercus forest, mature pine Pinus woodland with heathery clearings, orchards, mixed farmland, river valleys, and plains with scattered thorny or leafy trees. It winters primarily in dry wooded savanna and bushy plains, where it typically nests in tree holes.


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 a subspecies.[2]

The European roller was described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 under its current name.[3] The genus name derives from Greek; korakias refers to a type of crow, perhaps the red-billed chough.[4] The species garrulus is from Latin and means chattering or noisy.[5] There are two recognised subspecies:[6]


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.

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 a lapwing-like display, 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.

Some populations migrate to Africa through India. A collision with an aircraft over the Arabian Sea has been recorded.[9]

Coracias garrulus

Distribution and habitat

The European roller is a bird of warmer regions. The nominate subspecies breeds in northern North 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. They are migratory, wintering in Africa, mainly in the east and south.[7]

The European roller is found in a wide variety of habitats, avoiding only treeless plains. They are typically birds of lowlands, but occur 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.[7]


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 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.[1] 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.[1]

Threats include hunting while on migration in 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.[1]

In South India
Kruger National Park (South Africa)


  1. 1 2 3 4 BirdLife International (2015). "Coracias garrulus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  2. Hoyo, Josep del; Elliott, Andrew; Sargatal, Jordi; Christie, David A (eds.). "Coraciidae". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 10 September 2013. (subscription required).
  3. Linnaeus (1758) p. 107.
  4. Jobling (2010) p. 117
  5. Jobling (2010) p. 171.
  6. Hoyo, Josep del; Elliott, Andrew; Sargatal, Jordi; Christie, David A (eds.). "European Roller". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 23 November 2013. (subscription required)
  7. 1 2 3 4 Fry et al. (1992) pp. 298–300.
  8. Loudon, Harald von Freiherr; von Tschusi zu Schmidhoffen, Viktor (1902). "Coracias garrulus semenowi Loudon & Tschusi nov. Subsp.". Ornithologisches Jahrbuch (in German). 13 (3,4): 148–150.
  9. Satheesan, S M (1990). "Bird-aircraft collision at an altitude of 2424 m over the sea". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 87 (1): 145–148.

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