A bird of passage

European rollers (Coracias garrulus) breed in a belt that extends from Spain in the west to central Asia and northern Kashmir in the east. The increasingly popular common name, the Eurasian roller, is therefore more appropriate. All these birds winter in Africa. Around this time of the year, the eastern population passes over India on its way to east and south Africa. The great Rann of Kutch is one of the places where they stop to feed before crossing the Arabian Sea into eastern Africa. These birds were visible in plenty on our visit to the Rann: sitting quietly on electrical transmission lines, poles, and tips of low trees. I could see them from break of dawn until the light faded in the evenings, sitting still.

The routes that each bird chooses are generally not known. A recent study tracked individuals which nest in southern France and found that they follow essentially a straight line over the Mediterranean and the Sahara to their wintering grounds in west Africa, making a couple of stops on the way. Different birds of the same species must have similar endurance, no matter where they nest. So I would guess that birds from the central Asian population would rest two or three times before they reach Kenya or Tanzania. Then maybe most of the birds we saw were resting after a long day’s flight. The individual in the photo above seems to have lost a lot of body mass; its body looks as narrow as its head. This stop may be very necessary for it.

The Eurasian roller is markedly different in appearance from the Indian roller (C. benghalensis). The most noticeable difference is the complete absence of chestnut colour from its breast and neck. The air was full of dragonflies, and I expected to see birds make forays to pluck a few from the air. Oddly, I saw nothing of the sort. Should one again put this down to tiredness? One summer, long ago, I’d seen a few of these birds in the swampy Camargue in the south of France. They were quite active. During breeding season they develop a prominent indigo streak below the wings, which I remember well. The winter plumage is more dull. Does that have survival value during migration? I wish I knew the answer to such questions.

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

7 comments

  1. I love seeing rollers of all types, although the Lilac-breasted is my favourite. I think it’s possible that the dull winter plumage is due to the fact that the birds aren’t breeding then, so don’t need colour to attract a mate?

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      1. I should have mentioned that the lilac-breasted roller, the Indian roller, and the Abyssinian roller do not have seasonal changes in colour. And they do not have seasonal migration either.

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