The Lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus), is an African bird of the roller family, Coraciidae. With their colorful combination of pastel colors, they should be in the running for the title of one of the most beautiful birds in the world. Endemic to Africa, and parts of the Arabian Peninsula, this particular bird has attracted bird watches from all over the planet.
The peak season for Lilac-breasted roller fans is from late spring to summertime when they can be found in open-woodland. Lilac-breasted rollers look their best in full sunlight with these birds well and truly earning their name from the lilac feathers on the throat and chest.
This stunning plumage doesn’t stop there though, both males and females look very much alike, with their white-creamy faces, dark eye-line, thick bills, turquoise bellies, tail feathers, all finished off with royal blue wingtips.
All of this stunning color is accentuated with long dark tail streamers which turn the bird into an aerial acrobat when hunting on the wing.
These birds grow up to about 15 inches in length with a lifespan of around 11 years in the wild. They weigh about 4 ounces, with a wingspan of 23 inches.
Visually stunning their song is in stark contrast with their good looks, being somewhat raspy. Quiet most of the time, they usually only use their voice during the mating season when defending their territory.
Lilac-breasted rollers will form small family groups during wintertime, but come spring, they will reduce to groups of three, then pair off, or even fly on their own. Monogamous, they mate for life, nesting once a year, hatching four eggs per brood.
They dine on a wide variety of food sources such as lizards, insects, scorpions, snails, amphibians, rodents, and even smaller birds. Looking far and wide from a high vantage point, they will swoop down on their prey, beating them against a rock, ending its life before swallowing it whole.
They can be nomadic in search of better food sources and are commonly spotted across much of southern Africa and as far away as Oman and Yemen in the southern Arabian peninsula. They do prefer to inhabit the open woodland or grassland habitat but are widely distributed to trees, shrubs, or poles that serve as hunting perches.
Kenya’s Lewa Wildlife Conservancy describes the bird as “savvy” in its hunt for prey; “they will actively hunt at the edge of bush fires to take advantage of fleeing insects/reptiles,” the conservancy shared on an Instagram post.
Besides its color, the bird owes its name in part to a “fantastic” mating display, the conservancy continued, in which the male rolls from side to side during rapid flight to impress a “gally,” or female.
An even more daring stunt involves plunging toward the ground from around 33 feet in the air, with wings closed, steering upward at the very last second in a flagrant display of strength and skill.
The lilac-breasted roller is considered the national bird of both Kenya and Botswana, attracting myriad tourists to the region.
While poaching for the pet trade is a small threat, there is no major concern for their population status in the wild.