This is one bird which you will commonly find perched on wires along roadsides. The Indian roller bird or the Neelkanth. As children whenever we had our trips to Nagpur, one of our common pastimes used to be counting the number of Neelkanths we spotted on the highway.
The name ‘roller’ comes from the acrobatic display of the male to attract the female. It tumbles down in a rolling fashion as if it is about to fall, and then suddenly swoops up. Its heroics must be very impressive to the partner! Rolling action is best seen in breeding season between March and June.
In its sitting posture you can see tinges of blue. The breast is brownish and not blue as in the European Roller. 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. But the bird is most spectacular when it flares its feathers or flies. A streak of brilliant blue flashes before your eyes.
The name Neelkanth (“blue throat”) comes from the legend of Shiva where He is said to have gulped down poison and not swallowed it- which turns his neck blue. But the Indian roller is said to be a favourite of Lord Vishnu. There is also a legend which says that spotting a roller on Vijaydashmi day will bring good fortune and wealth. Unfortunately this legend has resulted in large scale poaching of these birds. They are captured, caged and sold illegally.
The Indian roller is the state bird of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Karnataka. One of my favourite moments has been capturing this duo in Tadoba. We were in our gypsy and Saravanan spotted this pair. We reversed the vehicle and I got this shot just in time.
Compare the Indian roller with the lilac breasted roller which is seen in Africa.