European Roller is a modern symbol of nature conservation in Serbia. In the first half of the 20th century, the species was very common in the lowlands, as well as in hilly areas and river valleys of central and eastern part of the country. Sadly, this beautiful multi-coloured bird has been in the spotlight in recent years due to its rapid decline since the 1950s. The decline, particularly obvious in the Vojvodina Region, reached its most alarming point when the last census showed that only 17 pairs were left in Vojvodina. Ornithologists decided to take action.
Experts from Riparia Association of Naturalists and the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia (BPSSS), (BirdLife Partner), realised that the immense potential of the vast Pannonian alkaline grasslands was being wasted. This was due to a lack of breeding sites for the birds, almost all of the old trees rich in breeding holes had been cut down. According to Otto Szekeres, Roller Project leader with the Riparia Association, breeding boxes had to be installed urgently in all possible places - younger trees and electricity pylons, to give the birds a chance.
This strategy, which was only implemented in the northern part of the country, soon began to cover southern areas too: “In 2003, we had the first ever breeding pair in a box in Serbia and this number has increased gradually, reaching a figure of 147 pairs in boxes in 2014”, said Otto Szekeres.
All these actions have proved to be widely effective, and lots of people, farmers and other stakeholders have recognised the European Roller’s recovery as a really positive move. Its presence on Pannonian grasslands is clear and visible: birds are displaying at the end of a breeding season and during migration on electricity wires quite frequently. Likewise, over 10 years, more than 1,200 chicks have fledged from the nest boxes and birds have started slowly to occupy natural holes in the remaining trees around the feeding sites. In addition, the European Roller project has attracted a group of active Roller caretakers who are doing local box installations and repairs, watching them and ringing the chicks. Most of these conservation lessons and experiences applied by BPSSS and Riparia Association were learnt from MME (BirdLife in Hungary), which has successfully implemented a similar set of Roller conservation projects.
“However”, –says Szekeres “in order to make the European Roller population sustainable, more efforts need to be invested in its management. If we cease the nest installation and repairs, the population will end up with no other suitable nesting opportunities”.
For this project to be successful and long lasting, it will require a strengthening and expansion of the surveillance network and full support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Environmental Protection in Serbia.
In the future bird lovers and environmentalists hope that European Rollers will not need such strong engagement of people for its survival.