European Roller

Terrestrial Bird Conservation Programme

Establishing an African monitoring programme

Current scientific research has shown conclusively that the total number of migratory birds globally has declined significantly in recent years as a direct result of human interference. The charismatic European Roller Coracias garrulus is one such bird that migrates annually between Eurasia and Africa, and whose numbers are known to be in decline.

Until recently this species was classified as globally Near Threatened by the IUCN and Birdlife International, and because of its vulnerable conservation status, an International Species Action Plan for the European Roller was drawn up by Birdlife International in 2008 in an effort to ensure its conservation on its northern breeding grounds. Although it was subsequently down-listed in 2015 from Near Threatened to Least Concern, the population is still thought to be in decline, and in need of continued monitoring and ongoing conservation interventions. The most recent assessment of the European population suggests that it is declining at a less severe rate than in previous years, and the Central Asian population is currently not thought to be declining significantly. Conservation actions in several countries have played an important role in contributing to national recoveries.

The main threats to this species across Europe include the loss of suitable breeding habitat and nest sites due to agricultural practices, as well as the use of pesticides which kills their invertebrate prey and reduces food availability. Many of these threats are likely to be exacerbated by climate change. Numerous birds also fall prey to indiscriminate and illegal hunting along their migration routes, particularly in the Mediterranean region, as well as illegal trapping for the pet trade.

There are 2 subspecies of the European Roller. The nominate Coracias garrulus garrulus breeds from Morocco, south-west and south-central Europe and Asia Minor east to south-west Russia. C. g. semenowi breeds in Iraq and Iran, Kashmir and Turkmenistan and into north-west China. The birds overwinter in two distinct regions of Africa, from Senegal east to Cameroon, and from Ethiopia west to Congo and south to South Africa.

There is an active, dedicated network of researchers and conservation organisations working together across the species’ breeding range in Europe and Asia in an attempt to find realistic conservation solutions. As well as tracking population trends over time, other focus areas include installing nest boxes in appropriate habitats, monitoring breeding success, researching ecological needs, and trying to encourage the use of non-toxic pesticides and more sustainable farming practices. Information from satellite tracking devices as well as geologgers and ringing recoveries are being used to better understand the migratory routes and stop-over sites used by these birds annually.

Establishment of an African monitoring group on the wintering grounds

While there is a very strong knowledge base and effective conservation action on the breeding grounds, very little is known about these birds on their African wintering grounds. The population status and trends remain unknown, the threats faced by these birds on both their migration routes and wintering grounds are unclear, and many gaps still exist in understanding the flyway routes followed by different population and subspecies. In order to effectively conserve migratory birds, it is vital to understand their entire migratory route and stop-over sites, as conserving them in one area of their range would obviously lack value if they were being negatively impacted on in another.

The aim of our programme is to help fill in some of the vital missing pieces in the European Roller migration puzzle by setting up a long-term monitoring programme in Africa. This will help to improve our understanding of the status of European Rollers on their non-breeding grounds, and through collaboration with relevant local and international organisations, contribute towards developing appropriate strategies to aid the conservation of the species. Our main objectives would be to:

  1. Establish a long-term research and monitoring programme within African range states in order to clarify the current population status of European Rollers and monitor long-term population trends
  2. Identify and mitigate potential threats to the species along the migration routes and on the African non- breeding grounds
  3. Collaborate with relevant local and international organisations in developing strategies to aid the conservation of the species.
  4. Draw up an International Species Action Plan for the European Roller on the African non-breeding grounds
  5. Use the European Roller as a flagship species for promoting the monitoring and conservation of migrant birds in general