The European Roller (Coracias garrulus) is predominantly a lowland species in Europe, ascending no higher than 800–1000 m in the Caucasus and only exceptionally so high in central Europe (Cramp 1985). It commonly reaches 1200 m in the Sierra Nevada, southern Spain (Garzón & Henares 2012) and it has occasionally been reported up to 2300 m in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco, in the Marrakech area (Barreau & Bergier 2001). I here report breeding at much higher altitude in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia.
I visited Kyrgyzstan during the summer of 2008 (Václav & Bárdoš 2008). European Rollers, presumably C. g. semenowi, were seen rather commonly throughout the trip, especially in the southwest of the country between the towns of Jalal-Abad and Taşhkömür and along the whole route from Osh to Sary-Taşh. I paid special attention to this species since I had previously collaborated in studies of its biology and ecology in Spain. In Kyrgyzstan the Rollers selected habitats similar to those used in southeastern Spain, namely valleys in which seasonal rivers have carved steep banks. They were apparently more common near human settlements, especially if there were irrigated fields, but they were still present in the arid grasslands around Sary-Taşh (39º70’N/73º25’E), a small village close to the borders with northern Tajikistan and easternmost Xinjiang, China, sited on an extensive plateau at c. 3100 m above sea level.
I visited Sary-Taşh on 29–30 July and again on 5–6 August. On the latter occasion I inspected burrows in a 500 m stretch of river bank where I had earlier seen perched rollers. At least two of the burrows had the very specific smell of used roller nests, so I am positive that they had been used that year. I had located a similar nest a few days earlier near the town of Gulcha, some 70 km to north of Sary-Taşh and at 1800 m, which contained a dead roller nestling. Despite the high elevation of the Sary-Taşh plateau, daytime temperatures were high and the country appeared to offer fairly suitable breeding conditions for European Rollers.
Barreau, D. & Bergier, P. (2001). L’avifaune de la región de Marrakech (Haouz et Haut Atlas de Marrakech, Maroc). 2. Les espèces: non passereaux. Alauda 69(1): 167–202.
Cramp, S. ed. (1985). The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Vol. 4. Terns to Woodpeckers. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Garzón, J. & Henares, I. (2012). Las aves de Sierra Nevada. Consejería de Medio Ambiente de la Junta de Andalucía, Granada.
Václav, R. & Bárdoš, Z. (2008). Kirgizsko – krajina kumysu, kamazov, kolesárov a kraklí. Vtáky 3(3): 16–17. In Slovak.