Dollarbird

Eurystomus orientalis (Linnaeus, 1766)

Order: Coraciiformes

Family: Coraciidae

New Zealand status: Native

Conservation status: Vagrant

Other names: eastern broad-billed roller

Geographical variation: Ten subspecies. E. o. pacificus breeds in Australia, migrating to south-eastern Indonesia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, occasionally straying to New Zealand.

Dollarbird. Adult. Canberra, Australia, January 2017. Image © RM by RM

Dollarbird. Adult. Canberra, Australia, January 2017. Image © RM by RM

Dollarbirds look every bit as exotic as they are in New Zealand, with their fairly large size, odd shape and behaviour, and greenish-blue colour. Since the first known occurrence in the 1880s there have been more than twenty records, sometimes of several birds in a year. They have occurred throughout the North and South Islands, but Westland and the Far North have had more occurences than other areas.

Identification

With a range of unusual vocalisations consisting of conspicuous grunts and chattering calls, dollarbirds are frequently heard before being seen. They are fairly large, about the size of a tui but much stouter, stocky with short legs, a short tail and a very big head with a flat crown. In adults, the head and breast are dark brown, and the throat is glossy bright blue. The body is greenish blue and the flight and tail feather dark blue. The bird’s name is inspired by the pale blue patches near the wing tips that resemble ‘silver dollars’, which are very prominent in flight. The bill is large and bright orange-red in colour and the legs are almost as bright. Young birds are a little duller, have very little blue on the throat, and brownish legs and bill.

The flight pattern varies from slow and direct with deep wing beats to fast and manoeuvrable when feeding. The thickset body, large head and broad wings give dollarbirds a distinctive silhouette.

Voice: the call is a distinctive loud raspy cackle.

Distribution and habitat

Breeding in eastern and northern Australia, but not Tasmania, dollarbirds migrate to south-eastern Indonesia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Birds return to the breeding areas from late September to November and depart from February to April. These migration periods coincide with the dates of most records in New Zealand, suggesting that they are usually travelling birds blown off course. Most New Zealand records have been from lightly wooded rural areas.

New Zealand records

Accepted records include: Mikonui River mouth (February 1881); Parihaka, New Plymouth (autumn 1881); Piha (November 1881); Waiwhakaio River, New Plymouth (late 1881); near Hokitika (late 1882); Wairoa district, Northland (“some specimens” November 1892); Awatere (November 1894); Stoke (April 1895); Te Kao, Far North (early spring 1923); near Greymouth (1933); Great Barrier Island (1935); Havelock North (April 1956); Farewell Spit (April 1956); Tikitiki, East Coast (May 1956); Fortrose (March 1967); Waihue Valley, Dargaville (May 1971); Westhaven Inlet (March 1983); Blenheim (March 1983); Hokitika (April 1995); Pukenui (October 1996); Pukenui (October 2000); and Kaitaia 8 January 2002. There were at least three unconfirmed records during 2011 & 2012.

Threats and conservation        

Regarded as secure in Australia.

Behaviour and ecology

Dollarbirds are usually seen alone or in pairs, but groups of up to 50 may form for migration. They mostly live in open woodland but also use pasture with scattered trees and suburban parks and gardens. They feed in the morning and especially in the evening, with a period of inactivity around the middle of the day. The main prey is large insects which are watched for from prominent perches, often a dead branch or sometimes a power pole, with the bird sitting motionless except for the turning head. Prey are caught on the wing after a quick and agile pursuit and may be taken over the canopy, in clearings or over water from low levels, occasionally from the ground, and also up to great heights. Dollarbirds sometimes engage in aggressive territorial disputes with other bird species whilst defending feeding perches. Nests are constructed in the hollows of trees (there are no New Zealand breeding records).

Food

Large flying insects such as cicadas, beetles and moths.

References

Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 1996. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Viking, Auckland.

Higgins, P.J. 1999. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Volume 4, parrots to dollarbird. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Recommended citation

Southey, I. 2013 [updated 2017]. Dollarbird. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Dollarbird

Breeding season
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Egg laying dates
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Dollarbird

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
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  • May
  • Jun