Physical characteristics: European rollers are heavily built, large rollers with no tail streamers. Their head, neck, and underparts are bright pale blue, with rufous to chestnut upperparts, blue square-tipped tail, and vivid blue wing patch. The throat and breast are streaked with white. They have a short black streak through the eye, and a brownish black bill with a white base. The two central tail feathers are dark olive-gray, with the remaining feathers greenish blue with darker bases. They are 12.2 to 12.5 inches (31 to 32 centimeters) long and weigh between 3.9 and 6.7 ounces (110 and 190 grams). Females and males look alike.
Geographic range: They breed throughout Europe, western and southwestern Asia, and the Middle East; and, while not breeding, live in the eastern half of Africa, and along the northern and central coasts of western Africa, and as far south as South Africa.
Habitat: They exist in open woodlands, wooded grasslands, cultivated fields, oak forests, pinewoods, river valleys, urban parks, and gardens of lowlands. They range from sea level up to about 2,000 feet (600 meters). They do not like open water; steppes, treeless, grass-covered plains; and plains, dry land with few trees. During breeding season, they are attracted to sunny lowlands.
Diet: European rollers eat mostly insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas (suh-KAY-duhz), mantids, wasps, bees, ants, termites, flies, butterflies, and caterpillars. Occasionally, they eat scorpions, centipedes, spiders, worms, frogs, lizards, snakes, and birds. While on their perches, European rollers watch for ground prey. Seeing food, they expose long, broad wings as they attack. They then return to the perch. Before eating prey, they repeatedly strike the food against the perch. They also catch insects in midair. Undigested remains are regurgitated (re-GER-jih-tate-ud; brought up from the stomach) in pellets.
Behavior and reproduction: European rollers are often seen hunched on a lookout perch on a tree, post, or telephone wire. They migrate seasonally to Africa, mainly in the east and south. They are noisy birds, often calling out a short gruff "rack," a chattering "rack rack rackrak ak," or a screeching "aaaarrr" (which is a sound of warning). They are noticeable while in their breeding territories. During wintering periods, they are quiet and slow moving birds. They breed in pairs, but loose flocks migrate together. They are active on warm days, but less active during rainy ones.
They form monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus) pairs, having only one mate, and they strongly defend their nests. Their courtship displays involve deep ascents followed by spectacular twisting dives that show off their wing colors. Croaking and rattling calls (like "ra-ra-ra-raa-raa-aaaaaa-aaaar") accompany the display. They breed from May to June, with females laying two to six (usually four) eggs in an un-lined, usually pine or oak, tree hollow, crevice in rock faces, or hole in walls of buildings. The incubation period is between seventeen and nineteen days, performed totally by the females. Both parents feed chicks. The fledgling period, time while the young grow their flying feathers, is twenty-five to thirty days.
European rollers and people: People admire European rollers for their beauty and like them because they eat insects, pests to humans. However, they are still often hunted for food, sport, and taxidermy, the stuffing and mounting of animals in a lifelike state.
Conservation status: European rollers are not threatened—they still number in the millions—however their numbers continue to decrease in Europe. ■
Resident Breeding Nonbreeding
Dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis)
Resident Breeding Nonbreeding
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