Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus [C. caudata])
Somewhere along the H1-8, December 2004.
Afrikaans: Gewone troupant
French: Rollier à longs brins
The Lilac-breasted Roller is a fairly large (32-36 cm), brightly coloured bird. It is distinguished from the similar Racket-tailed Roller
by its obviously lilac (not blue) breast, generally paler coloration, and pointed, elongated outer tail feathers. Adults lose the elongated tail feathers during the winter moult.
Rollers have strong, short, bills with a hooked tip to the upper mandible. The Lilac-breasted Roller has a blackish bill and yellowish-green or green feet and legs. The eye is dark.
Male and female are alike. The breast is a brilliant lilac colour, streaked with white. The belly is sky blue and the wing coverts are various shades of blue. The crown is greenish-turquoise and the rump and tail are bright blue.
There is a white patch on the forehead, and around the dark eyes. In flight the totally blue wings are a spectacular sight, with stunning contrast between the sky-blue inner wing and the dark blue feather ends.
The juvenile lacks the elongated tail feathers but the lilac breast differentiates it from juvenile European
and Racket-tailed Rollers.
It has a spectacular display, which can be seen in the breeding season, when it flies high above the woodland calling loudly. The bird will fly with a curious rolling motion, involving twists and turns. It then suddenly turns and dives down on open wings.
Lilac-breasted Rollers are usually seen solitary or in pairs. The bird perches conspicuously on top of bushes, trees or telephone wires from where it can see the surrounding terrain. It rocks from side to side when diving to perch. It generally flies down to the ground to catch its prey.
The main food is insects, including locusts, beetles, caterpillars and ants, but it is also known to take small lizards and small birds. The bird is attracted to grassfires because of the disturbing effect these have on its prey.
A harsh, grating "rak-zak-zaak, zak-zak-zak, zak-raak", usually uttered in display. Otherwise generally a quiet bird.
Savanna and thornveld, preferring less wooded areas.
From August to December. The nest is in a natural hole in a tree, 2-6 metres above the ground.
Widely distributed throughout Africa, South of the Congo basin as well as in East Africa.
As published in A review of African birds feeding in association with mammals
by W.R.J. Dean and I.A.W. MacDonald, Lilac-breasted Rollers have been observed following other animals and catching insects disturbed by them (Kudu, Transvaal; Elephant, Zimbabwe).
A personal observation by myself was of Lilac-breasted Rollers swooping down in front of approaching cars to catch that one last, too good to let it get away, grasshopper. At least that's what I thought at first. But after joking about their kamikaze talents and suicide attempts for a while, it suddenly dawned on me that they were actually waiting for the cars to stir the insects from the side of the road.
This was on N'wanetsi road just before the turn off to Satara, and we watched them for over an hour. Did not manage one single decent pic of one in flight though.