The Legend of the Blue Bird: Why the European Roller has Lost Its Way

The European roller (Coracias Garrulus) is a trans-Saharan migrant bird of conservation concern. The nominate subspecies breeds in northern Africa, southern and east-central Europe, including Portugal, Turkey, eastwards through northwestern Iran to southwestern Siberia. The number of species is decreasing due to agricultural practices, habitat loss, and unsustainable hunting. Understanding how the presence of species is affected by a human is crucial for biodiversity conservation. Since conservation of migratory birds demands global measures, we must collaborate to save this beautiful bird for the next generations, but not in the Red Book, our countries.

Migratory birds are vital to the healthy ecosystems and global well-being of people. (1) They consume billions of insects, help disperse crop seeds, provide food and income.

However, we don’t know how many birds survive despite climate change, unsustainable hunting, or habitat loss as local research is insufficient. To conserve birds’ population we need to know their habitat, distribution data, and threats.

Distribution of the European Roller:current global breeding and wintering range. (9)

Migration Routes and Breeding Sites

The European roller is a migrating species, spending its wintering period in Central- and Southern-Africa. (2) Portuguese and south-Spanish birds take a westerly route around the west African coast. Although, the migration route of these birds reveals that they breed in most entire Turkey, the biggest population of 12000-30000 breeding pairs in Turkey among 35 European countries has faced significant declines.

Alongside, the European population declined by 25 percent between 1990 and 2000 as a result of suitable breeding habitats’ loss.(3)

‘‘With the global warming, the migration times of birds changed,” said Prof.Ass.Dr. Esra Per from Gazi University. ‘‘They started to arrive earlier. Respectively, hatching and breeding times changed. Global warming affects birds first, then their food and habitats.”


The European Rollers were categorized as Near Threatened by the IUCN between 2005 and 2012. The population has been classified as SPEC 2. (2) To follow the International Species Action Plan YRE need to investigate threats to declining Roller’s populations.


Data analysis of the European Red List of Birds by European Red List of Birds (3) indicates that the scope of illegal trapping of migratory birds around the Mediterranean is lower than 50%, while agro-industry farming indicates a significant decline of 50-90%, resulting in ecosystem degradation. (4)

Dr. Alonso from SPEA Portugal said ‘‘Birds are hunted in one country and protected in another. Protection of migratory birds requires a joint effort, which is the most difficult’’.


The study ‘Habitat and Nest Site Selection of the European Rollers in the Northern Anatolia’ (5) prooves that agricultural areas are the major land cover types where the European Rollers breed. But why are birds disappearing?

“Because of the intense, irresponsible use of chemicals in agriculture,’’ said Prof. Dr. Mustafa Yıldız from the Department of Agriculture, Ankara University in his interview. ‘‘Using pesticides causes deaths of species, on which birds feed while breeding, forcing them to abandon natural habitats. Low-intensity traditional farming is a solution to maintain Roller populations. ’’


Understanding the habitat preferences of European Rollers is very important in their key breeding range. This species prefers breeding throughout Mediterranean zones in the countryside with patches of oak (Quercus) forest, mature pine (Pinus ) woodland, mixed farmland, and river valleys. (6)

Status and Trends Across Europe

Status and trends of Roller population across Europe: (a) long-term, (b) short-term (4)

GERMANY: Loss of older cavity-supporting trees has been identified as a global bird conservation issue. Eventually, the 2015 Assessment shows that the European Roller population in South-western parts of Germany was marked as ‘possibly extinct’. (6)

SWEDEN: Research by BirdsLifeInternational, 2015 shows the range of the species as ‘extinct’.

PORTUGAL: Serra do Caldeirão breeding site is marked with a ‘low’ threat score and ‘not assessed’ condition score.

TURKEY: Mesarya Valley is a rich natural food source for birds. However, European Rollers can’t find sufficient nest areas there.

Dicley Valley in Turkey had been a favorable breeding site of European Roller until 2016. (7) Now the condition score is ‘very unfavourable’. If European Roller’s average life span is 5,6 years, do we have enough time to investigate its breeding environments?


Decreasing population of European Roller mirrors biodiversity challenges. We interviewed experts Mr.Serhan Cagırankaya from the Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs in Turkey and Prof. Pedro Teiga from the University of Porto in Portugal.

“Due to excessive use and unplanned management of water, and irresponsible destruction of nature, wetlands and forests are severely damaged,” Mr.Serhan said.

“Riverbanks serve as ecological corridors for many migratory birds to inhabit and feed, ’’Prof. Pedro Tiega said. “The great methodology for protecting birds lies in improving the quality and recovery of rivers and waterways. Planting trees creates shades, decreases water temperature, and increases the oxygen concentration”. 


The UN Secretary Mr. General António Guterres said, “migratory birds are symbols of peace and an interconnected planet. They connect people, ecosystems, and nations”.  We don’t feel less concerned about ‘Least Concern’ species in the Red List. (8) We believe educational programs on biodiversity conservation and ecosystem must be included in the school curriculum.

To contribute to the 2030 Agenda for SDG 15 (Life on Land) we announced YRE Action Plan of migratory birds conservation:

§ One Bird, One World’ Video Campaign was piloted on Weebly site.

§ Webinars on biodiversity loss and bird conservation were delivered by experts in schools.

§ A collaborative kids radio theater play ‘A Blue Bird’ was created and broadcasted by YRE teams.

§ ‘Watch the Birds’ mobility plan for the Year 2021-2022 was approved by project partners.

The long-term well-being of migratory birds is closely interrelated to our prospects for a globally sustainable future.

Unable to find healthy oxygen, water, and food on the way home, will you let your fledglings ever come back to their motherland, or will you fly away?




(3)  BirdLife International, 2015. European Red List of Birds, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.


(5)  Şahin Arslan N, Arslan Akveren G 2019. Habitat and Nest Site Selection of the European Rollers in the Northern Anatolia. KSU J. Agric Nat 22(5): 794-798. DOI: 10.18016/






Personal sphere:

School community:

§ Campaign: ‘One bird, one world’ Campaign Poster in Ari Private Middle School.

§ Project:

§ Webinar:

§ Video Campaign:

§ Play and Campaign:

§ Play:





National operator: yre.turkey (Instagram)

 National Media:

International Outlet:

yre_int (Instagram)

Categories: Articles

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s