On a recent afternoon game drive, ranger Craig and his guests were en-route to their sundowner spot when they came across this lilac breasted roller sand bathing and passive anting (cleaning itself). This beautiful bird is seen fairly often in our neck of the woods, and is always a firm favourite among our guests for its distinctive plumage.
So for our ‘Twitchers’, today we bring you a few interesting facts about the lilac breasted roller:
Latin name: Coracias caudata.
Appearance: The average size of the lilac breasted roller is 14.5 inches (36.8 cm). The washed green head is large, the neck is short, the greenish yellow legs are also rather short and the feet are small. The beak is strong, arched and hooked-tipped. The tail is narrow and of medium length. The back and scapulars are brown. The shoulder of the wing, outer webs of the flight feathers and the rump are all violet. The bases of the primaries and their coverts are pale greenish blue and the outer tail feathers are elongated and blackish. The chin is whitish, shading to rich lilac of the breast. The underparts are greenish blue. The bill is black and the eyes are brown. It has large wings and strong flight.
Diet: The lilac breasted roller feeds on grasshoppers, beetles, occasionally lizards, crabs, and small amphibians. It takes its prey from the ground.
Breeding: They make unlined nests in natural tree holes or in termite hills. Sometimes they take over woodpecker’s or kingfisher’s nest holes. They lay 2-4 white eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for 22-24 days. At 19 days the chicks are fully feathered and grayish brown.
Behaviour: These birds get their name from their impressive courtship flight, a fast, shallow dive from considerable elevation with a rolling or fast rocking motion, accompanied by loud raucous calls. All rollers appear to be monogamous and are highly territorial. The lilac breasted roller will perch on a dead tree, surveying the area for prey. One typical aspect of its behavior is that it also preys on animals fleeing from bush fires. It is a swift flier, indulging in acrobatics during the breeding season. It actually breeds ‘on the wing’.
They live in pairs or small groups, but are often seen alone. Their call is a loud harsh squawk, ‘zaaak’. They are partly migratory, but in some areas they are sedentary. To feed they swoop down from an elevated perch next to their prey and eat it on the ground, or return to a perch where they batter it before swallowing it whole. They are territorial, also defending temporarily small feeding territories; hence individuals are regularly spaced along roads. They drive off many species from near their nest hole, even after breeding.
Habitat: Grasslands, open woods and regions where palm trees grow singly.
The species ranges more or less continuously throughout eastern and southern Africa from the Red Sea coasts of Ethiopia and northwest Somalia to the Angola coast and northern South Africa. Lilac breasted rollers inhabit acacia country with well-spaced trees, rolling bushy game lands, riverside areas and cultivated land, but they do not associate with human habitation.
Have you had the pleasure of witnessing one in flight? That flash of vivid blue will stay with you forever!