Watch an Indian Roller @ any road trip

One of the questions I am commonly asked about birds is "I was driving along and this bird took off from a tree on the side of the road, I didn't even see it at first but as soon as it started flying it had the most intense beautiful blue plumage I have ever seen, what was it?" The answer is an Indian Roller, no, not some high flying, industrialist magnate who enjoys casinos and comes from the Indian sub-continent, but one of the most beautiful birds in Thailand as long as it's in the air.

Indian Rollers are common all around Korat and are often seen when people are driving or travelling by public transport. As mentioned you will hardly notice them most of the time due to their relatively drab plumage when they are still, especially at a distance, but as soon as they take off you will see amazing flashes of blue which seem to have come from out of nowhere. They are quite unmistakable in flight, no other bird within Thailand has such amazingly bright two-tone blue plumage, especially when the sun catches it and makes it appear even more intense.

The Indian roller (Coracias benghalensis), is a member of the roller family of birds. They are found widely across tropical Asia stretching from Iraq eastward across the Indian Subcontinent to Indochina and are best known for the aerobatic displays of the male during the breeding season, the twists and turns giving the species its English name. 

It is a stocky bird about 26–27 cm long. The breast is brownish, the crown and vent are blue. The primaries are deep purplish blue with a band of pale blue. The tail is sky blue with a terminal band of Prussian blue and the central feathers are dull green. The neck and throat are purplish lilac with white shaft streaks. The bare patch around the eye is ochre in colour. Rollers have a long and compressed bill with a curved upper edge and a hooked tip. The nostril is long and exposed and there are long rictal bristles at the base of the bill.

They are very commonly seen perched along roadside trees and wires, which they use to descend to the ground to capture their prey which may include insects, arachnids, small reptiles, small snakes and amphibians. Fires attract them and they will also follow tractors for disturbed invertebrates. They are commonly seen in open grassland and scrub forest habitats. 

They are not migratory, but undertake some seasonal movements. The largest worldwide populations of the species are within India, and several states in India have chosen it as their state bird.

The call of the Indian roller is a harsh crow-like chack sound. It also makes a variety of other sounds, including metallic boink calls. It is especially vociferous (noisy) during the breeding season. The bird bathes in open water by plunge-diving into it, a behaviour often interpreted as fishing.

The next time your travelling to or from Korat, or most places within Thailand for that matter, keep your eyes on the roadside trees and wires and if you see a flash of blue which appears to have come from nowhere you will have seen the wonderful Indian Roller.

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