European Roller: From Serbia To Namibia

3 Apr 2020

Dirk Heinrich 

It took Farmer Volker Dickhoff by surprise, when together with one of his employees; he was able to catch a European Roller on his farm near Otjiwarongo on February 28th of this year (2020).  

The bird carried a numbered metal ring on one foot, and a yellow-coloured ring with the inscription VW3 on its right leg. Along with a six-digit number (304956), the metal ring bore the words MUS BELGRADE. Farmer Dickhoff then proceeded to bring the colourful bird home, where he subsequently put it in a cage and fed the sick animal with "Dickpens" (saddle-backed bush cricket), which the bird ate without hesitation. 

After Dickhoff had informed me about his find, I asked him to bring the bird to Windhoek as soon as possible so that it could be entrusted into the care of Liz Komen of NARREC (Namibia Animal Rehabilitation Research and Education Center). The trained veterinary assistant has been caring for injured and sick birds of prey since 1989. Every now and then, other bird species also find themselves in her care. 

After careful research, it was revealed that the European Roller had been ringed in Serbia, in particular in Atar sela Obornjača, Bačaka Topola by Jožef Sihelnik on 12 July 2019. At the time, the bird had still been a hatchling and was carefully kept in a nesting box. Upon hearing about the find, Dr. Daliborka Stanković from the Center for Animal Marking at the Natural History Museum in Belgrade, was very excited to receive feedback from Namibia for the very first time. After a journey encompassing 231 days and a total of 7386 kilometres from its starting-point in Serbia, the bird had been found at La Paloma farm in the Otjiwarongo district of the Otjozondjupa region. 

On March 5, 2020, the almost nine-month-old European Roller was then brought to the NARREC rehabilitation centre near Windhoek. Twelve days later (17 March), Liz Komen released the bird after it had made a fairly sufficient recovery. Within NARREC’s green surroundings, countless saddle-backed bush crickets as well as other insects can be found. Komen hopes that the Roller will build up sufficient reserves whilst in this area, before tackling the long journey back to Serbia. 

Of the five species of Roller that can be found in Namibia, the European Roller is the only one that makes its way to our country from Europe and does not use it as breeding grounds. The Cinnamon Roller on the other hand, is an Inter-African migratory bird and breeds here in Namibia. Lastly the Fork-, Striated- and Spatulate Rollers remain in Namibia throughout their lives and thus also breed here. 

Last year, a European Roller equipped with a satellite tracking device in Italy, quickly turned into a spectacle after it began its journey south in 2018, covering a distance of over 800 km over the Mediterranean Sea in one night. The bird, weighing almost 150 grams, then crossed the Sahara at an altitude of 4000 meters and at a speed of 113 kilometers per hour. Its final destination was the eastern part of the Etosha National Park in Namibia, where the European Roller remained for a few weeks before tackling the long journey back home. It then embarked North via Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and then progressed further west across the Sahara, Tunisia and back to Italy. In May 2019, the bird was found back in its incubator attached to a pole of a power line near Rome, just in time for summer in the northern hemisphere and thus the beginning of the breeding season 

Hopefully, the European Roller with the colour ring VW3 will also make its way back to Serbia via Africa. The rehabilitation centre NARREC, where the Roller was nursed, relies on contributions in order to rehabilitate birds and educate Namibian citizens, especially in rural areas, about pesticides, poison and nature conservation. For further information, please contact Liz Komen at +264 61 264409 or +264 81 129 0565. 

Blue Rollers have been classified as potentially endangered worldwide. In Italy, they are threatened by poachers who “steel” the nestlings from their nesting boxes. In addition, hundreds of thousands of birds, including Rollers, are caught and eaten each year by people on the Arabian Peninsula. 

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