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.
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.
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.