Roller (Bird) - Encyclopedia


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ROLLER, a very beautiful bird, so called from its way of occasionally rolling or turning over in its flight,' somewhat after the fashion of a tumbler-pigeon. It is the Coracias garrulus of ornithology, and is widely though not very numerously spread over Europe and Western Asia in summer, breeding so far to the northward as the middle of Sweden, but retiring to winter in Africa. It occurs almost every year in some part or other of the British Islands, from Cornwall to the Shetlands, while it has visited Ireland several times, and is even recorded from St Kilda. But it is only as a wanderer that it comes, since there is no evidence of its having ever attempted to breed in Great Britain; and indeed its conspicuous appearance - for it is nearly as big as a daw and very brightly coloured - would forbid its being ever allowed to escape a gun. Except the back, scapulars and tertials, which are bright reddishbrown, the plumage of both sexes is almost entirely blue - of various shades, from pale turquoise to dark ultramarine - tinted in parts with green. The bird seems to be purely insectivorous. The genus Coracias, for a long while placed by systematists among the crows, has really no affinity whatever to them, and is now properly considered to belong to the heterogeneous group of birds now associated as Coraciiformes, in which it forms the type of the family Coraciidae; and its alliance to the bee-eaters (Meropidae) and king-fishers (Alcedinidae) (q.v.) is very evident. Some eight other species of the genus have been recognized, one of which, C. leucocephalus or C. abyssinicus, is said to have occurred in Scotland. India has two species, C. indicus and C. affinis, of which thousands upon thousands used to be annually destroyed to supply the demand for gaudy feathers to bedizen ladies' dresses. One species, C. temmincki, seems to be peculiar to Celebes and the neighbouring islands, but otherwise the rest are natives of the Ethiopian or Indian regions. Allied to Coracias is the genus Eurystomus with some half-dozen species, of similar distribution, but one of them, E. pacificus, has a wider range, for it inhabits Australia and reaches Tasmania.

Madagascar has four or five very remarkable forms which have often been considered to belong to the family Coraciidae; and, according to A. Milne-Edwards, no doubt should exist on that point. Yet if any may be entertained it is in regard to one of them, principles, and even went so far as to defend the miracles supposed to be worked at the tomb of Francois de Paris, commonly known as Deacon Paris. Unfortunately his religious opinions deprived him of his appointments and disqualified him for the rectorship, to which in 1 719 he had been re-elected. It is said that the same reason prevented his election to the French Academy, though he was a member of the Academy of Inscriptions. Shortly before his death (14th December 1741) he protested publicly against the acceptance of the bull Unigenitus. Rollin's literary work dates chiefly from the later years of his life, when he had been forbidden to teach. His once famous Ancient History (Paris, 1730-38), and the less generally read Roman History, which followed it, were avowed compilations, uncritical and somewhat inaccurate. But they instructed and interested generation after generation almost to the present day. A more original and really important work was his Traite des etudes (Paris, 1726-31). It contains a summary of what was even then a reformed and innovating system of education, including a more frequent and extensive use of the vulgar tongue, and discarded the medieval traditions that had lingered in France.

See Sainte-Beuve, Causeries du lundi, vol. vi.

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