Cuckoo Roller

Every now and again world birders come across a truly odd species, a weird looking or oddly shaped bird, or one with a strange anatomical feature. But surely few of them are as different as the Cuckoo Roller Leptosomus discolour of Madagascar.

Kruger National Park

This bird is so odd that scientists are still struggling to place it in the correct family. Currently it is the only bird in the family Leptosomidae, but it might be related to anything from falcons to trogons and even rollers or woodpeckers.

It is indeed an odd-looking but distinctive species, with the male and female showing marked differences. It is medium-large (38 to 50 cm/15 to 20 in), with males having a velvety grey chest and head contrasting with metallic green-purplish back, tail and wings. The females are mostly brown, with dark spots on the chestnut underparts. The stout bill and eyes set far back in the face is what really gives the Cuckoo Roller its strange appearance. It also has very broad wings and flies at a slow pace, bringing to mind a raptor in flight. Furthermore, the feet have an unusual structure, with two toes forwards and two toes backwards.

They inhabit a variety of habitats, including rainforest, deciduous forest, spiny bush-forest, tree plantations and even parklands and agricultural areas. It can be found from near sea level up to 2,000m above sea level.

The Cuckoo Roller is largely carnivorous. Chameleons and insects, particularly locusts and caterpillars, are important food items. Other prey taken include grasshoppers, mantises, cicadas, stick insects and geckos. The principal foraging technique is by perch-and-sally or active aerial foraging. Prey is caught in the large bill and killed by beating it against a branch.

The inhabitants of Madagascar have many legends and myths about the species. It is often considered a good omen, and (because it is often seen in pairs) is associated with couples and love.

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