Indian roller (
Coracias benghalensis), is a member of the roller
family of birds. They are found widely across tropical Asia from Iraq
eastward across the
Indian Subcontinent to
Indochina and are best
known for the aerobatic displays of the male during the breeding
season. They are very commonly seen perched along roadside trees and
wires and are commonly seen in open grassland and scrub forest
habitats. It is not migratory, but undertakes some seasonal movements.
The largest populations of the species are within India, and several
India have chosen it as their state bird.
1 Taxonomy and systematics
3 Distribution and habitat
4 Ecology and behaviour
5 In culture
7 Other sources
8 External links
Taxonomy and systematics
Indian roller was originally described as belonging to the genus
Corvus. Alternate names for the
Indian roller include the Indian
blue roller, northern roller and southern blue roller.
Three subspecies are recognized:
C. b. benghalensis - (Linnaeus, 1758): Found from eastern
India and Bangladesh
Southern roller (C. b. indicus) - Linnaeus, 1766: Originally described
as a separate species. Found in central and southern India, Sri Lanka
Burmese roller (C. b. affinis) - Horsfield, 1840: Originally described
as a separate species. Also called the Indochinese roller. Found from
India to south-central China, northern Malay Peninsula
A large hook-tipped bill, seen here in subspecies indicus
Indian roller is a stocky bird about 26–27 cm long and can
only be confused within its range with the migratory European roller.
The breast is brownish and not blue as in the European Roller. The
crown and vent are blue. The primaries are deep purplish blue with a
band of pale blue. The tail is sky blue with a terminal band of
Prussian blue and the central feathers are dull green. The neck and
throat are purplish lilac with white shaft streaks. The bare patch
around the eye is ochre in colour. The three forward toes are united
at the base. Rollers have a long and compressed bill with a curved
upper edge and a hooked tip. The nostril is long and exposed and there
are long rictal bristles at the base of the bill.
The three forward pointing toes appear to be joined at the base
Three subspecies are usually recognized. The nominate form is found
from western Asia (Iraq, Arabia) east across the Indian Subcontinent,
India north of the
Vindhyas mountain ranges. The subspecies
indicus is found in peninsular
India and Sri Lanka. The southern form
has a darker reddish collar on the hind neck which is missing in the
nominate form. The race affinis of northeastern
India and Southeast
Asia (Thailand, Myanmar, Indochina) is sometimes considered a full
species, but within the Indian region, it is seen to intergrade with
benghalensis. The form affinis is darker, larger and has a purplish
brown and unstreaked face and breast. It has underwing coverts in a
deeper shade of blue.
Distribution and habitat
Indian roller is distributed across Asia, from Iraq and United
Arab Emirates in south-western Asia through the Indian Subcontinent,
including Sri Lanka,
Lakshadweep islands and
Maldive Islands into
Southeast Asia. Its main habitat includes cultivated areas, thin
forest and grassland.
Ecology and behaviour
Subspecies affinis from Thailand
Indian rollers are often seen perched on prominent bare trees or
wires. They descend to the ground to capture their prey which may
include insects, arachnids, small reptiles, small snakes and
amphibians. Fires attract them and they will also follow
tractors for disturbed invertebrates. In agricultural habitats in
southern India, they have been found at densities of about 50 birds
per km2. They perch mainly on 3—10 metre high perches and feed
mostly on ground insects. Nearly 50% of their prey are beetles and 25%
made up by grasshoppers and crickets. It has been suggest
Indian roller could play a role in controlling agricultural
insect pests due to its feeding behaviour.
The feeding behaviour of this roller and habitat usage are very
similar to that of the black drongo. During summer, they may also
feed late in the evening and make use of artificial lights and feed on
insects attracted to them. They are attracted to swarms of winged
termites, and as many as 40 birds have been seen to perch on a
70-metre stretch of electric wires.
Its habit of feeding near roadsides sometimes results in collisions
with traffic. A decline in the numbers of these birds seen
along roadsides in northern
India has been noted.
A study on roosting behaviour found that immediately after waking up,
the birds spend a few minutes preening followed by flying around their
roosting sites. Favoured perches include electric or telegraphic
wires. They have also been observed perching in trees and shrubs.
Rollers tend mostly at a heights of 3-9 m height from where they
forage for ground insects. They may also use taller perches and obtain
insects from the upper canopy of trees.
Roller during non-breeding season
The display of this bird is an aerobatic display, with the twists and
turns that give this species its English name. The breeding season is
March to June, slightly earlier in southern India. Displays when
perched include bill-up displays, bowing, allopreening, wing drooping
and tail fanning. Holes created by woodpeckers or wood boring
insects in palms are favoured for nesting in some areas. Nest
cavities may also be made by tearing open rotten tree trunks or in
cavities in building. The cavity is usually unlined and is made up
mainly of debris from the wood. The normal clutch consists of about
3-5 eggs. The eggs are white and broad oval or nearly spherical.
Both sexes incubate the eggs for about 17 to 19 days. The young
fledge and leave the nest after about a month. Nearly 80% of the eggs
hatch and fledge.
The call of the
Indian roller is a harsh crow-like chack sound. It
also makes a variety of other sounds, including metallic boink calls.
It is especially vociferous during the breeding season.
The bird bathes in open water by plunge-diving into it, a behaviour
often interpreted as fishing. But it may occasionally
attempt fishing from water.
Blood parasites Leucocytozoon of the family
Plasmodiidae have been
noted in the lung tissues. Parasitic helminth worms Hadjelia
truncata and Synhimantus spiralis were recorded as well.
Indian roller is very common in the populated plains of
Hindu legends. It is said to be sacred to Vishnu, and
used to be caught and released during festivals such as
Dussera or the
last day of Durga Puja. A local
Hindi name is neelkanth,
meaning "blue throat", a name associated with the deity
drank poison resulting in the blue throat). Adding its chopped
feathers to grass and feeding them to cows was believed to increase
their milk yield. The
Indian roller has been chosen as the state
bird by the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha,
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