Long-tailed ground roller (Uratelornis chimaera)

French: Brachyptérolle à longue queue
GenusUratelornis (1)
SizeLength: 47cm (2)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU A2cd, C1) on the IUCN Red List 2003 (1).

Ground rollers are a group of birds found only in Madagascar. Some experts place them in their own family, Brachypteraciidae, although other experts place them as a subfamily of the rollers (family Coraciidae) (3). There are five known species of ground roller in three genera. The long-tailed ground roller is the only species belonging to the genusUratelornis. It is a spectacular bird, and unique in appearance, looking like a combination of a roadrunner, a pitta and a roller (4), a characteristic that earns this bird the specific name chimaera, which refers to the Chimaera of Greek mythology, which was a composite of a lion, a goat and a snake. As the common name suggests, this species has a magnificent long tail, which is brown with dark barring and blue edges. The upperparts are greyish in colour, but streaked with brown, and the wings have a blue streak towards the outermost edge. The breast is white and features a dark breast-band that joins a brown ‘moustache’ stripe (2).

Endemic to Madagascar, where it is found in a narrow strip of land that was originally 30 - 60 km wide and 200 km long, in the south-west of the island (2).

Inhabits deciduous spiny forest and coastal scrub from sea-level up to altitudes of 80 m (2).

This species spends most of its time on the ground, although it may occasionally sing from a tree branch (3). It forages on the ground for invertebrates, and often lifts and lowers its tail as it goes (2). They are monogamous birds (2) and pairs nest in three-foot deep holes that they excavate themselves, usually in a slope or embankment (3) (4). Pairs are territorial and during the breeding season they will defend the area around their nest hole (2).

The main threats facing this species include clearance of habitat for firewood and charcoal production. Although this occurs on a small-scale, it is very widespread (5). Other threats include clearance for slash-and-burn agriculture, and for construction timber, as well as grazing by livestock (2). Predation by dogs is known to take place, and introduced rats may also be a problem (2). The area in which this species occurs is completely unprotected (2).

The spiny forests of the southwest of Madagascar have been identified as the top priority region for the establishment of reserves, and recently, conservation measures have been devised with the involvement of local people. It has been suggested that a network of community conservation initiatives should be established along with a main protected area (2).

For more information on this species see:
BirdLife International 2003 Birdlife’s online World Bird Database: the site for bird conservation Version 2.0. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International. Available:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2014)