Atelornis pittoides

Least Concern

©Nick Block

Least Concern

9.8-11.4 inches (25-29 cm) length
males 2.9-3.1 ounces (83-89 g), females 3-3.8 ounces (87-108 g)

Dense rainforest, sometimes drier woodlands


Diurnal and Crepuscular
Terrestrial and Arboreal

Habitat Loss


As their name suggests, pitta-like ground rollers spend a lot of time on the ground, searching through leaf litter for insects to eat.

Except for calls between pairs during breeding season, this species is largely silent and difficult to spot—birdwatchers consider it one of the world’s most elusive birds.

These birds don’t nest in trees. Instead, they dig out a burrow in the soil to lay their eggs in.


As the name ground roller implies, this colorful, long-legged bird spends much of its time on the ground. Males and females look similar, with a distinctive cobalt-blue head dotted with white and a black band across the eyes that forms a mask. The chin and throat are white, forming a white bib bordered with blue. The shoulders are reddish bronze, the back and upper wings green, and the long tail has dashing blue feathers along each side.

©Carlos Sanchez

Foods and Feeding

The pitta-like ground roller feeds on invertebrates, mostly ants, beetles, butterflies, cockroaches, and worms. It may also eat small vertebrates, such as lizards and frogs. It forages mostly on the ground, searching through leaf litter. If it spots a prey item, it stands motionless, then makes a short dash and jumps onto and grabs its prey. It is seen actively feeding at dusk and may feed into the night as well.

©Max Omick


This ground roller is a shy and elusive bird, rarely seen by humans. While largely terrestrial, it roosts in low trees and bushes, and calls from low perches during breeding season. When calling, it bobs its head and wags its tail, which is thought to be part of a courtship display between pairs.

Habitat Use

These ground rollers are commonly found in eastern Madagascar and on the central High Plateau. They are found from lowland to high-altitude rainforest and prefer habitat with dense vegetation and deep leaf litter. They can also be found in drier forest and even secondary forest near human plantations.

©Kai Squires

Reproduction and Life Cycle

The breeding season coincides with the rainy season, between October and February. While breeding, the males defend a territory and form a monogamous pair with a female. The pair nests in a burrow, which they excavate in a sloping bank of soil. A short entrance leads to a rounded nest chamber, usually lined with dead leaves. The nest is typically dug in a clear area that gives the birds good visibility to spot potential predators. The pair may dig several nests but only lay eggs in one.

The female lays two to four eggs, and the male occasionally feeds her while she is incubating. Once the chicks hatch, both parents feed the young. Because this species has not been well studied, incubation and fledgling periods are not known.

Conservation and Threats

Currently, the pitta-like ground roller has a fairly large range and relatively stable population, so its current IUCN status is Least Concern. The species occurs in several protected areas, but it has rather patchy distribution. Like many endemic Madagascar species, it is threatened by degradation and destruction of habitat for agriculture expansion.