species of the week #51 – european roller

The European Roller used to be a breeding bird in Germany. The last regular breeding occurrences in eastern Germany became extinct in the 1990s. Occasionally, the European Roller can be observed as a migrant in Germany.

Verbreitungsstatus Distribution status Extinct in Rhineland-Palatinate
Remaining occurrences Africa, Europe, Russia and Asia
Last sighting in Rhineland-Palatinate 1994 near Mayen
Habitat Old trees with near water, also loess quarry edges and heathlands
Threat Food loss
Restvorkommen Afrika, Europa, Russland und Asien
Letzte Sichtung in Rheinland-Pfalz 1994 bei Mayen
Lebensraum Altbäume mit naher Wasserfläche,  auch Lössabbruchkanten und Heidegebiete
Bedrohung Nahrungsverlust

The European Roller is a migratory bird and winters in South Africa. With a size of about 32 cm and a wingspan of about 64 cm, it is about the size of a crow. In blue rollers, males and females look the same. The back is coloured cinnamon brown, the underside, head and wings shimmer turquoise to ultramarine. The strong black bill has a hook at the tip. The young birds have developed a special trick to ensure that they are all well fed. The skin of poorly nourished young birds reflects more UV light than that of their stronger siblings. This way, the parents know who needs an extra portion.
European rollers prefer warm regions with old trees and water nearby, because they are cavity breeders. If there are no trees with nesting cavities (e.g. woodpecker cavities) in their habitat, they dig nesting tubes in embankments or sand hills.
The European Roller is extinct in Germany. There have been individual attempts at reintroduction in Lusatia. However, these have not been sustainable so far, as there is no sufficient food supply in this habitat. The european Roller’s prey consists mainly of large insects (grasshoppers, crickets, dragonflies, beetles, caterpillars). However, due to massive pesticide use and habitat loss, the number of insects has declined drastically. A reintroduction of bluebirds in Hungary showed that missing nesting cavities can be compensated by artificial nests if the food supply is right.

Politically necessary:

– Massive reduction of pesticide use in agriculture and forestry,
– No insecticides in protected areas
– Preservation of old trees in the landscape and in floodplains.

To further species of the week

Image: By Artur Mikołajewski – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3163763