Did you know that Karnataka’s state bird is the Indian Roller? Watch out for that brilliant flash of blue

We were in the Nagarahole forests when it was the dry season, when everything was parched and brown, and the trees were leafless. The jeep bumped along the uneven jungle road when suddenly the guide told us to look up at the overhanging branches and perched fairly close to us was this bright blue bird. In seconds it vanished in a flash of blue and everyone called it a Blue Jay. “No, that is the Indian Roller (Coracias Benghalensis), which is the State bird of Karnataka,” revealed Sujith K., the naturalist who had accompanied us.

“You will not be able to see it in the city of Bangalore, but you will find them everywhere in the open grasslands and scrub forests around Nagarahole, Bandipur and Kabini. During the days of the Maharajas, a captive Roller would be released during the festivals of Dasara and Durga Puja.”

“I am always fascinated by the bird, particularly by the colours. Once, we spotted a Roller chase a raptor away in Kabini and it was amazing to see this small bird take on a giant. I guess one cannot always judge a bird by its size, like we cannot judge a book by its cover,” says Lakshmi Sharath, a freelance travel writer. The name Roller is derived from the twists and turns the bird makes in flight.

Breeding from March to June, it creates its nest in holes in the trunks of trees, which were originally made by boring insects or woodpeckers.

“When I was growing up, there was an A3-sized Karnataka Tourism Department’s poster of an Indian Roller that adorned our dining room. It was KSTDC’s way of publicising our state bird. It was later that I learnt that it was the state bird for three other states in India as well — Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Bihar,” shares Deepak Rajanna, a development manager with Amazon.

Tara Tuatai, member of the Parrot Society Of Australia says, “I was in India last year and saw this poor little Indian Roller at the Hyderabad bird market. I did report the vendor to the Birdwatcher’s Society of Andhra Pradesh as they would know the appropriate authorities to notify. I was hoping they could shut down that market or at least police it better. On a brighter note, I saw lots of wild and healthy Indian Rollers in the Bharatpur sanctuary, which could be where the poor little captive Roller was stolen from.”

The bird as one can see from the photo is good looking and so naturally will be high on the wish list of these bird peddlers. Interestingly, it is good to look at but it makes a harsh crow-like sound which can be loud and constant during the breeding season.

“The call of the bird is very similar to the laughter of one of our Sandalwood villans, Sundar Krishna Urs,” says Vinaya Kumar Thimmappa, a software engineer.

“We used see to the Roller in Hebbal till 2004 but I have not seen it after that. Today, the Hesarghatta grasslands are where you will see many specimens of this bird. I had observed that during one season in Bandipur, they were found in plenty and during the drier season they are not found at all. I think this has got to do the availability of food. In the rainy season they find plenty of insects on the roads and that is why they appear in large numbers,” he says.

“Once a pair of Roller birds made a nest in a dead coconut tree in our agricultural land. While one bird was incubating inside the tree hole, its partner sat on top of the tree watching for predators. Sadly during a heavy shower, the coconut tree fell and the Rollers lost all their nestlings,” shared Chandrakantha Ursu, a software engineer working for Ariba Technologies.

So if you are headed out for a weekend getaway in the nearby resorts on the outskirts of the forests of Bandipur, Kabini and Nagarahole, look out for the spectacular Indian Roller, which may be perched on overhead wires or streaking through the trees.