Coraciidae – Rollers

Dollarbird Eurystomis orientalis ©Ian Montgomery Website

The Coraciidae or rollers are an Old World family of near passerine birds. The group gets its name from the aerial acrobatics some of these birds perform during courtship or territorial flights. Rollers resemble crows in size and build, and share the colourful appearance of kingfishers and bee-eaters, blues and pinkish or cinnamon browns predominating. They are birds of open habitats with trees or other elevated perches from which to hunt.

They are mainly insect eaters, with Eurystomus species taking their prey on the wing, and those of the genus Coracias diving from a perch to catch food items from on the ground, like giant shrikes.

The rollers are found in warmer parts of the Old World. Africa has most species, and is believed to be where the family originated. This is supported by the fact that the related ground-rollers are found on Madagascar. The European Roller is completely migratory, breeding in Europe and wintering in Africa, and the Dollarbird also leaves much of its breeding range in winter. Other species are sedentary or short-range migrants. Although all extant rollers are birds of warm climates in the Old World, fossil records show that rollers were present in North America during the Eocene. They are monogamous and nest in an unlined hole in a tree or in masonry, and lay 2 to 4 eggs in the tropics, 3 to 6 at higher latitudes. The eggs, which are white, hatch after 17 to 20 days, and the young remain in the nest for approximately another 30 days.

Rollers resemble crows in size and build, ranging from 25 to 27 centimetres in length. They share the colourful appearance of kingfishers and bee-eaters, blues and pinkish or cinnamon browns predominating. The rollers are similar in general morphology to their relatives in the order Coraciiformes, having large heads on short necks, bright plumage, weak feet and short legs. The two inner front toes are connected, but not the outer one. The weakness of the feet and legs is reflected in their behaviour, rollers do not hop or move along perches and seldom use their feet other than for occasional lurching leaps along the ground pursuing escaping prey. The bill is robust, and is shorter yet broader in the genus Eurystomus, sometimes known as the broad-billed rollers. The broad-billed rollers have brightly coloured bills, whereas those of the Coracias (or true) rollers are black. Other differences between the two genera are in wing length; the more aerial Eurystomus rollers have longer wings (and shorter feet still) than the Coracias rollers, this reflects differences in their foraging ecology. Their calls are ;repeated short, gruff caws’.

Coracias rollers are watch-and wait hunters. They sit in a tree or on a post before descending on their prey and carrying it back to a perch in the beak before dismembering it. They take a wide range of terrestrial invertebrates, and small vertebrates such as frogs, lizards rodents and young birds. They will take items avoided by many other birds, such as hairy caterpillars, insects with warning colouration and snakes.

Eurystomus rollers hunt on the wings, swooping on flying beetles, crickets and other insects which are crushed by their broad deep beaks and eaten on the wing. The Azure Roller and Dollarbird will hunt huge swarms of termites and flying ants which appear after thunderstorms. Tens or hundreds of these rollers may be attracted to large swarms.

There are generally considered to be 12 species of Roller, which are:

Purple Roller Coracias naevius
Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis
Purple-winged Roller Coracias temminckii
Racket-tailed Roller Coracias spatulatus
Lilac-breasted Roller Coracias caudatus
Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinicus
European Roller Coracias garrulus
Blue-bellied Roller Coracias cyanogaster

Blue-throated Roller Eurystomus gularis
Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus
Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis
Azure Dollarbird Eurystomus azureus

Species Links
  • Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinica

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Coracias abyssinica Hermann, 1783, Ethiopia. Monotypic.
  • Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinica

    Species Account
    The Abyssinian roller (Coracias abyssinicus) is a member of the roller family of birds which breeds across tropical Africa in a belt south of the Sahara, known as the Sahel. It is resident in the southern part of its range, but northern breeding populations are short-distance migrants, moving further south after the wet season.
  • Azure Dollarbird Eurystomus azureus

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Azure Dollarbird Eurystomus azureus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Eurystomus azureus G. R. Gray, 1861, Bacan, Moluccas. Closely related to E. orientalis, and sometimes treated as conspecific (see above). Monotypic.
  • Azure Dollarbird Eurystomus azureus

    IUCN Species Status
  • Azure Dollarbird Eurystomus azureus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Azure Dollarbird Eurystomus azureus

    Species Account
    The azure dollarbird (Eurystomus azureus) also known as the azure roller, purple dollarbird or purple roller, is a species of bird in the Coraciidae family. It is endemic to the Maluku Islands in Indonesia.
  • Blue-bellied Roller Coracias cyanogaster

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Blue-bellied Roller Coracias cyanogaster

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Coracias cyanogaster Cuvier, 1816, Java; error = Senegal. Relationships uncertain; no obvious close allies within genus. Monotypic.
  • Blue-bellied Roller Coracias cyanogaster

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Blue-bellied Roller Coracias cyanogaster

    Species Account
    The blue-bellied roller (Coracias cyanogaster) is a member of the roller family of birds which breeds across Africa in a narrow belt from Senegal to northeast Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is resident, apart from some local seasonal movements, in mature moist savannah dominated by Isoberlinia trees.
  • Blue-throated Roller Eurystomus gularis

    Species Account
    The blue-throated roller (Eurystomus gularis) is a species of roller in the Coraciidae family. It is found in western Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Blue-throated Roller Eurystomus gularis

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Eurystomus gularis Vieillot, 1819, Sierra Leone.Has been treated as forming a species-group with E. glaucurus, the two being very similar morphologically and behaviourally; range of E. glaucurus, however, fully encompasses that of present species, and both probably better regarded as independent species. Races intergrade in SE Nigeria and SW Cameroon. Two subspecies recognized.
  • Blue-throated Roller Eurystomus gularis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Blue-throated Roller Eurystomus gularis

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species account…
  • Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus

    HBW Species Account
    HBW species account...
  • Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus

    Species Account
    The cinnamon roller (Eurystomus glaucurus), also known as the broad-billed roller, is a member of the roller family of birds which breeds across tropical Africa and Madagascar in all but the driest regions. It is a wet season breeder, which migrates from the northern and southern areas of its range towards the moister equatorial belt in the dry season.
  • European Roller Coracias garrulus

    BirdLife Species Account
  • European Roller Coracias garrulus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Coracias Garrulus Linnaeus, 1758, Sweden.Often regarded as forming a species-group with C. caudatus and C. abyssinicus, although those two are probably more closely allied to each other than either is to present species. Two subspecies recognized.
  • European Roller Coracias garrulus

    IUCN Species Status
  • European Roller Coracias garrulus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • European Roller Coracias garrulus

    Species Account
    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.
  • Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis

    Species Account
    The Indian roller (Coracias benghalensis), is a member of the roller family of birds. They are found widely across tropical Asia stretching from Iraq eastward across the Indian Subcontinent to Indochina and are best known for the aerobatic displays of the male during the breeding season
  • Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis

    HBW Species Account
  • Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Indian Roller Coracias benghalensis

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Lilac-breasted Roller Coracias caudata

    BirdLife Species Account
    BirdLife species profile…
  • Lilac-breasted Roller Coracias caudata

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Coracias caudata Linnaeus, 1766, Angola. Two subspecies recognized.
  • Lilac-breasted Roller Coracias caudata

    IUCN Species Status
  • Lilac-breasted Roller Coracias caudata

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Lilac-breasted Roller Coracias caudata

    Species Account
    The lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) is an African member of the roller family of birds. It is widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula, preferring open woodland and savanna; it is largely absent from treeless places. Usually found alone or in pairs, it perches conspicuously at the tops of trees, poles or other high vantage points from where it can spot insects, lizards, scorpions, snails, small birds and rodents moving about at ground level.
  • Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis

    IUCN Species Status
  • Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis

    Species Account
    The dollarbird (Eurystomus orientalis), also known as the Oriental dollarbird or dollar roller, is a bird of the roller family, so named because of the distinctive blue coin-shaped spots on its wings. It can be found in south-west Pacific and east Asia from northern Australia to the Japan archipelago and India.
  • Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Coracias orientalis Linnaeus, 1766, Java. Ten subspecies currently recognized.
  • Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis

    Species Account
    The Dollarbird is the sole Australian representative of the Roller family, so named because of their rolling courtship display flight. The Dollarbird visits Australia each year to breed. It has mostly dark brown upperparts, washed heavily with blue-green on the back and wing coverts.
  • Oriental Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Purple Roller Coracias naevius

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Purple Roller Coracias naevius

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Coracias nævia Daudin, 1800, Senegal. Relationships uncertain; no obvious close allies. Species name frequently given as naevia, as in original description, but genus is masculine. Original spelling seems to be “noevia”, but appearance of diphthongs varies with original typescripts, and evidence from same work indicates author’s intended name to have been “naevia”. Two subspecies recognized.
  • Purple Roller Coracias naevius

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Purple Roller Coracias naevius

    Species Account
    The purple roller (Coracias naevius), also called the rufous-crowned roller, is found over sub-Saharan Africa to as far south as Namibia and the Transvaal. Compared with other rollers its colours are rather dull and its voice rather harsh and grating.
  • Purple-winged Roller Coracias temminckii

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Purple-winged Roller Coracias temminckii

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Purple-winged Roller Coracias temminckii

    Species Account
    The purple-winged roller (Coracias temminckii) is a species of bird in the Coraciidae family. It is endemic to the Sulawesi subregion Island in Indonesia and can be found on the islands of Sulawesi, Bangka, Lembeh, Manterawu, Muna and Butung.
  • Racket-tailed Roller Coracias spatulatus

    BirdLife Species Account
  • Racket-tailed Roller Coracias spatulatus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Coracias spatulatus Trimen, 1880, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Two subspecies currently recognized.
  • Racket-tailed Roller Coracias spatulatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Racket-tailed Roller Coracias spatulatus

    Species Account
    The racket-tailed roller (Coracias spatulatus) is a species of bird in the family Coraciidae. It is found in Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 12

Useful Reading
  • Kingfishers, Bee-eaters & Rollers

    by C Hiliary Fry, Kathie Fry and alan Harris Helm 1992 ISBN: 0713680288 Buy this book from NHBS.com

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