With officially only four broad-billed rollers on Londolozi (and only in the Summer months), I think it’s safe to say that they are among the rarest birds we find here. We do get the occasional vagrant coming through of other species that we wouldn’t expect, but if we only look at what birds are resident or are currently here to nest and that weren’t blow off course by some storm or other, these four rollers must top the list of exciting birds to see.

Alex Jordan’s recent photo of a broad-billed roller. Hopefully the same pair we’ve been seeing for the last couple of summers is back for the season! Photograph by Alex Jordan

I know birds aren’t the highest priority on every visitor to the bush’s checklist, but for those who appreciate every facet of the experience out here, the intricacies of migration and the beauty of the rollers themselves must surely pique some sort of interest. It was almost five years before I saw my first broad-billed roller on Londolozi. Not to say that they weren’t here before, just that if they were, we weren’t seeing them. I remember there being one or two recorded sightings by other lodges on lower reaches of the Sand River, but it wasn’t until a pair decided to nest close to camp that we experienced some regular sightings at Londolozi.

And now it seems that the two pairs who have been recorded in the last couple of years are back. The map below shows rough positions of the pairs’ respective nesting sites, and on most afternoons their raucous calls can be heard in the area, as they are highly territorial and will chase off any other bird species that stray too close, particularly those that may want to usurp their nesting hole, like starlings or lilac-breasted rollers.

Interestingly enough, not a lot is known about the breeding habits of these rollers in Southern Africa. The birds pair up to breed, and although some species (like the woodland kingfishers who are about to arrive) wait until they have completed their migration to find a mate, the rollers are generally already partnered up by the time they get here. I imagine they’d struggle to find a partner if they didn’t do it this way, as they aren’t exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to other members of their species flitting about the place.

David Dampier’s fantastic series of photos from two season’s ago documented this pair’s activities around their nesting site; a hollow cavity in an old Albizia tree. Photograph by David Dampier

The mornings and evenings are the best time to see them, as they are relatively crepuscular, spending most of the day inactive and only hunting for their insect prey during the cooler hours. Roughly 80% of their diet is made up of ant and termite alates (the winged dispersers of these insect families), although other bugs will be taken in lieu of their first choices.

In the last two seasons the birds were an exciting discovery, but this year, knowing exactly where they are nesting again and having a good idea of their habits, we’ll be keeping a close watch on both pairs, hoping to catch a glimpse of the chicks, if and when they emerge from their nesting holes.



Filed under Wildlife

About the Author

James Tyrrell

Photographic Guide/Media Team

James had hardly touched a camera when he came to Londolozi, but his writing skills were well developed, and he was quickly snapped up by the Londolozi blog team as a result. An environment rich in photographers helped him develop the photographic skills ...

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on One of Londolozi’s Rarest Birds

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Callum Evans

Fantastic that you guys have a breeding population there! Birds are high on my bush checklist (or for anywhere), with the cats and wild dogs just beating them (still need to see the latter)!! Very interesting read!

Marinda Drake

Amazing that they come back to the same nest. We saw a broad billed roller years ago at the Shingwedzi river in the north of Kruger.

David Attenborough

James nice to know they are back, the migrants bring so much mystery with them. Is the thought that one of the pairs is the parent pair and the other offspring? If so then the numbers could continue to increase – fascinating and so much we don’t know.

James Tyrrell

Hi David,
A good question and I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you. It’s certainly possible that young birds return to their area of birth on their first migration, as I imagine they follow all the same geographical landmarks that they did on the way north. Since the parents would defend their own nest site aggressively, young birds would be forced to move off, and might establish themselves nearby.
Who knows?

Ian Hall

The bird life was really good when I stopped and I got the Kingfisher photo I always wanted, but not everybody wants to see a Kingfisher when there are some of the world’s most approachable Leopards …

Jeff Rodgers

The bugs, the birds & the great beasts are all what makes Londolozi so special. Thanks for this blog.

Denise Vouri

To be honest, I’m not much of a bird watcher and I freely admit to wanting to see the mammals of Africa. However, I found your blog quite interesting and will definitely look more closely at the birds of Southern Africa on my next trip. I am a big fan of bee eaters, lilac breasted rollers and fish eagles. My longest lens is a 70-200,2.8 so shooting birds is challenging. I’ll leave it to you experts. Thank for your comments.

James Tyrrell

Hi Denise,
Thanks for the comments. Despite saying you aren’t much of a bird watcher,, you’ve picked some great birds to be fans of !
Photographing them can be tricky, as you generally need a minimum of 400mm in your lens, unless the bird is VERY relaxed and close to you. Or unless it is an ostrich!

Anthony Goldman

Awesome article James and great information as always and glad they are back.How long do they stay and are they likely to still be around in March ?

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