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The Lilac Breasted Roller

23 Jan 2020 | By Author Thornybush | Wildlife

The lilac breasted roller is one of the icons of a South African safari and one of the most beautiful bushveld bird species. You’re bound to hear them around camp, and almost certain to spot a few during your daily game drives at Thornybush.

What’s in a Name?

Coracias Caudatus is one of those specimens where the bird’s common name says it all. Unlike the word ‘Ostrich’ which tells you nothing about the bird that bears this name, the term ‘lilac breasted roller’ describes its namesake to a tee.

Coracias is most easily recognized by its vivid lilac breast, turquoise-coloured abdomen and vivid blue on the wings. They’re gorgeous and easy to see from their lofty perches at the tops of branches or high up on telephone poles.

These elevated roosts give them a clear view over their savannah habitat, where they have an advantage over unsuspecting prey. Lizards, insects, scorpions, smaller birds, scorpions, snails, and rodents are all on the menu.

Come mealtimes, the birds get to show off another aspect of their natures that make them fascinating to watch. They’re not averse to hawking prey in the air, displaying a wide range of rolling, tumbling behaviours in the process. Hence the second part of their name.

You Can’t Have It All

The roller may have looks and athletic talent in spades, but when it comes to vocals, it’s voice lets it down a tad.

Unlike the lilting tunes you might expect from such a lovely creature, the lilac breasted roller gives voice in a series of loud harsh squawks and ‘zaaak’ sounds. These jarring tunes are often heard around camp particularly during the breeding season where this ruckus forms part of the males’ swooping courtship displays.

Come nesting time, you’ll find the female birds holed up in a disused tree cavity about 5 metres off the ground, incubating between 2 and 4 eggs at a time. The birds are monogamous and take turns caring for their clutch until the fledglings hatch some 24 days later.

After 19 days, the youngsters are resplendent in their magnificent plumage and ready to take their place in the chorus.


Book your front row seats for the show when you get in touch to reserve your South African safari with Thornybush.