Over the last two months I have told you about two of the most colourful birds which can be found in Spain but are not usually found back in the UK, the Hoopoe and the Bee-eater. Most British birdwatchers coming to Spain for the first time have those two on his three “most wanted” list, the third one of the triumvirate is the “Blue Bird of Happiness” (which of course refers to an American bird which is most unlikely to be found in Spain) so here it is – a blue bird which always makes me happy, the European Roller.
It is rarely seen in the Clot, but is regular around the countryside, particularly between La Marina and Elche, where it often nests in old woodpecker holes in palm trees. It tends to favour open lowland areas with scattered trees, either cultivated or scrub areas. It is in our area of Spain from April through to late September, so you’ve got until the end of this month to find one!
Just look at my photo – how could you possibly miss seeing a bird that brightly coloured? It’s a chunky bird the size of a Jackdaw (a small crow for those who don’t know it) and is distantly related to the crow family. When it flies, you will see that it has a black trailing edge to it’s wings, contrasting sharply with the different shades of blue on the forewings. Rollers are not hard to see when perched either, the tend to sit out in the open on a wire or high tree to survey the ground around them for its favourite food of large insects, reptiles, rodents and frogs which form its main diet.
The odd English name of Roller comes from its activities during the spring, when the bird has an impressive display flight consisting of twists, turns and loops, while calling with a loud series of crow-like calls. One of the strangest things about Rollers is that their nestlings will vomit if they are disturbed, and this causes the parent birds to stay away from the nest – it is thought that this is a survival mechanism to protect the adults who may be able to breed again, whereas the nestlings may die from any predator which has caused the disturbance.
Unfortunately the Roller population is in a severe decline, over 30% of the global population has been lost during the last 15 years. Some of this is attributable to persecution by shooters when it is on migration; other causes include changes in farming methods and loss of habitat. It is extremely rare in the UK, where a British sighting of this unmistakeable bird will bring the twitchers out in a frenzy.
You can see more photographs of birds from our area by visiting www.marketheridge.smugmug.com See you next month.