Short-legged ground roller -- 短腿地三宝鸟 (Brachypteracias leptosomus)

Short-legged ground roller
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Short-legged ground roller fact file

Short-legged ground roller description

GenusBrachypteracias (1)

This secretive, arboreal bird is the largest of the five species of rainforest ground rollers. It often appears almost immobile, perching motionless for long periods (up to an hour at a time), making it difficult to find (2) (3). With short legs, large head and puffy throat, it has a plump appearance (2). The upperparts are mid green-brown with a purple iridescent colour to the rear crown and nape, while the underparts are much paler in comparison (3). The cheeks and throat are maroon-brown, speckled with white spots and bordered by a wide, white, crescent-shaped breast band (2). The long tail has white tips on the outer feathers and there are fine white tips to the wing-coverts (3). The bill is strong, slightly hooked and dark brown (2) (3). The territorial call of the short-legged ground roller can be heard in early morning or evening, as a long series of single ‘bop’ notes repeated every one to two seconds for around four minutes (2) (3). In contrast, the contact call of this species is a much quieter ‘kroo-kroo’ or ‘poop’, heard during the day (2).

Brachyptérolle leptosome.
Length: 30 - 38 cm (2)
Male weight: 186 g (2)
Female weight: 154 g (2)

Short-legged ground roller biology

The least terrestrial of the ground roller species, the short-legged ground roller spends the majority of its time perched on branches 2 to15 metres above ground searching for prey (3), 90 percent of which is invertebrates. The remaining ten percent is made up of small vertebrates, such as frogs, geckos, lizards and snakes (2).

Nesting in tree cavities and the root masses of epiphytes, the short-legged ground roller re-nests rapidly after natural nest failure. Pairs occupy neighbouring territories in suitable habitat, with the home range of one pair found to be 19 hectares (3). Observation of one pair of short-legged ground rollers found the nesting period to be around 30 days (5).


Short-legged ground roller range

The short-legged ground roller, like the other four ground roller species, is endemic to Madagascar (3). It has been recorded in eastern forested areas (4), from Daraina forest in the north to Andohahela in the south, and is the most localised of the rainforest ground rollers (3).


Short-legged ground roller habitat

Largely found in low to mid altitude, undisturbed primary forest, the short-legged ground roller prefers the darker, more humid areas of the rainforest. These areas tend to have moderate ground cover of herbaceous, mossy vegetation and deep leaf litter.

At the upper part of their altitudinal range, the short-legged ground roller is more likely to be found in larger trees (3), and is generally absent from disturbed or degraded habitat (2).


Short-legged ground roller status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Short-legged ground roller threats

The biggest threat to the short-legged ground roller is the loss of its preferred habitat. Forest on the eastern plain of Madagascar has already been degraded, resulting in habitat which is unsuitable for this species of ground roller. One of the main causes of habitat degradation is slash-and-burn cultivation by subsistence farmers. The remaining suitable habitat is now under threat from further degradation, caused by the expanding human population and commercial logging. In particular, lower altitude sites of habitat, which are preferred by this bird, are thought to become increasingly threatened over the next decade (3). In addition, the short-legged ground roller is also threatened by hunting (2).


Short-legged ground roller conservation

The Birdlife International Madagascar Programme, founded in 1997, implemented project ZICOMA – Important Bird Areas in Madagascar (IBAs). This was a nationwide survey of key bird sites, and in response to ZICOMA, numerous site conservation projects were set up (6). The short-legged ground roller is now well protected under this programme, being recorded in 23 IBAs, nine National Parks, two Strict Reserves, three Special Reserves, and six Classified Forests (3). It is also hoped that a national bird conservation organisation will be set up to become the BirdLife partner in Madagascar (6). In the future, conservation measures will focus on preventing habitat loss, particularly via the use of fires by subsistence farmers (3).


Find out more

For further information on the short-legged ground roller see:



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An animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Plants that use another plant, typically a tree, for their physical support, but which do not draw nourishment from it.
Animals with no backbone.
Primary forest
Forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
The cutting and burning of forests or woodlands to create space for agriculture or livestock.
Animals with a backbone.
Small feathers concealing the bases of larger primary feathers on the wings.


  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2007)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Eliot, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 6: Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Birdlife International (January, 2008)
  4. African Bird Club (January, 2008)
  5. Thorstrom, R. and Lind, J. (1999) First nest description, breeding, ranging and foraging behaviour of the short-legged ground roller Brachypteracias leptosomus in Madagascar. Ibis, 141(4): 569 - 576.
  6. BirdLife International Madagascar (January, 2008)

Image credit

Short-legged ground roller  
Short-legged ground roller

© Per Smitterberg

Per Smitterberg


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