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A lilac-breasted roller is a member of the roller family of birds. It is found in the Arabian peninsula and parts of sub-Saharan Africa. These colorful birds are easy to spot and generally unafraid of people, making them a common sight for people living and traveling in their native range. Both Kenya and Botswana have named the lilac-breasted roller as their national bird.
The coloration on the lilac-breasted roller is essentially the same in both sexes. As their name implies, these birds have patches of lilac on their chests. Their bodies have patches of blue, turquoise, and russet, and they have slender, long tail feathers. Coracias caudatus, as it is also known, is an eye-catching bird made easy to identify by the distinctively colorful plumage.
The rollers are named for their distinctive flight pattern, especially during courtship. Members of this family are agile fliers and they engage in swooping, diving maneuvers with rolling movements to show off. While flying, the birds typically voice loud, raucous calls designed to draw attention to their activities. In the case of the lilac-breasted roller, the call is a harsh “zaaaaak” noise. In addition to being a useful method for grabbing attention, the adroit flying skills of these birds are also valuable for hunting.
Lilac-breasted rollers sit on high perches in trees to command a good view of the ground below. They look for insects and small animals like frogs, swooping down from above to catch their prey. These birds have also been known to take advantage of the ample available prey around fires and burn sites, hovering near the fire line to grab animals attempting to escape the fire.
These birds prefer forest and savanna habitats and are not found in areas where trees are not present. Found alone or in mating pairs, the lilac-breasted roller is extremely territorial. The parents nest together, with the female laying two to four eggs in a nest constructed in a tree hole or old termite mound. Both partners defend the nest, sometimes very aggressively.
Visitors on safari tours usually spot lilac-breasted rollers on their trips. The birds are very bold and will tolerate close human contact, much to the delight of photographers. It is advisable to be careful around known nests to minimize potential upset to the birds. While the lilac-breasted roller cannot do serious damage to humans in defense of its nest, the birds can become extremely agitated if they sense a threat to their eggs or young.