Blue-bellied Roller
- Photos by Susan Fleck
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(sources: Wikipedia & Toronto Zoo websites) The Blue-bellied Roller (Coracias cyanogaster) is a member of the roller family of birds which breeds across Africa in a narrow rainforest 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. This is a common bird of warm open country with some trees. These rollers often perch prominently on trees, posts, or overhead wires, like giant shrikes, whilst watching for the grasshoppers and other large insects on which they feed. The display of this bird is a lapwing-like display, with the twists and turns that give this species its English name. It nests in a hole in a tree - a tree cavity. Perched, it resembles a crow with its stocky build and large beak. In fact, the Latin word coracium means "like a raven".


The blue-bellied roller is a carnivore that feeds on just about any invertebrate it finds on the ground. In one Côte d’Ivoire survey of their stomach contents, their preferences were found to be: 30% grasshoppers, 28% beetles and 16% termites and ants. Other snacks they like are wasps, mantises, antlion larvae (known as doodlebugs in North America), millipedes, and earthworms. They will even eat noxious insects with indicative coloration. Occasionally they will catch a small skink or snake. Unlike other rollers, this one will eat some vegetation, specifically the palm-oil nut.

Fast chases indicate that courtship has begun. The chasing bird will break away and speed downwards, tumbling, calling raucously, and rolling its body from side to side. This is why the family is called rollers.
The nest is built about ten metres up a small tree or in a palm-tree cavity. Two to three eggs will be laid, though at higher latitudes it could be up to six. Both parents incubate for about three weeks though the female sits the most. Born altricial, the hatchlings take four weeks to fledge. During this time, juveniles from previous broods will assist with feeding. Food is regurgitated.

Blue-bellied rollers also keep an eye out for intruders into their territory. While on patrol, they display their brilliant plumage. If that doesn’t stop an intruder, they will make rolling dives while calling shrilly to scare others away. During nesting, they are particularly aggressive. They show no fear no matter the size of a potential predator. Blue-bellied rollers will stay together most of the day in groups of two, three or four, spending most of their time feeding and calling. They often roost in larger groups of up to twelve. However, by nature, they are irritable and aggressive. These traits evolved before the spread of agriculture when clearings would have been fewer, meaning competition for hunting trees would have been greater. They had to have ways to express hostility without resorting to fighting, which might be devastating with their powerful beaks.

A complex system of postures and movements to communicate social information developed. For example, ruffling of the neck feathers often precedes an advance on the other bird. Staring often induces the other bird to retreat. Pecking the ground may be redirected attack. An erect posture with the crown high and the bill pointing groundward shows extreme aggression. Pseudosexual and reverse copulation threatens other birds in the area as well as being an outlet for aggression. These behaviors and others evolved to prevent bloodshed amongst blue-bellied rollers.





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