Lilac Breasted Roller

In South Africa, the lilac breasted roller is found in the northern areas, bordering on (and extending into) Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana

South Africa BirdlifeThe Lilac Breasted Roller {Coracias caudata}

The bold, vibrant colours of the lilac breasted roller seem quite unreal, reserved for artists with a full colour palette that needs to be used up. It is a small bird with plenty to offer in the way of aesthetic beauty and a cheeky character.

Its head is relatively large with a short neck. The top of the head is green and the chin is whitish, with a bold black stripe on the pale-pink or orange face. The breast and throat are a gloriously bright lilac, while the back is brown and the wings are blue and violet. Underneath, the bird is a green-blue hue. The narrow blue tail has long black outer feathers. Its little feet are a yellow-green colour.

Its black bill is strong, with a hooked tip that is ideal for its carnivorous diet.

It flies quickly and is capable of plenty of acrobatics, even while plummeting metres towards the earth with closed wings.

Quick Facts


Range mass: 104g
Range length: 36 – 38 cm
Range wingspan: 50 – 58cm.


The lilac breasted roller favours grassy savannahs, open woodlands, scrubby game lands, and areas in which the trees are well spaced. They can also be found in agricultural regions.


They live and breed in various countries around the world. In South Africa, the lilac breasted roller is found in the northern areas, bordering on (and extending into) Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana.


This little hunter favours lizards, beetles, crabs and grasshoppers, as well as any other insects they happen to come across. However, they are not opposed to eating a small bird that is vulnerable and available. Their prey is caught from the ground as the hunter swoops down swiftly from an elevated perch.


The lilac breasted roller is relatively nonplussed by the presence of people, and is known for allowing onlookers to come quite close to them to take the perfect photographs. They are extremely territorial and will be aggressive when defending their nest (with or without eggs or chicks). They usually live in pairs, but can also be found in small flocks. However, during the day, they are often alone.


This bird has a jarring squawk that has been likened to the noise of a steam train. Phonetically, it is rendered “zaaak”. This means of communication is used mainly while in dramatic displays while in flight.


The courtship ritual is delightful to watch, and the dipping and diving with a fast rolling action (during flight) is the basis of this bird’s name. The mating ritual is also characterised by loud squawking. Once a lilac breasted roller has found its mate, it will breed in the air. It remains monogamous to that mate for the rest of their lives.

When looking for a good spot in which to build a nest, the lilac breasted roller favours ant or termite mounds and holes in trees. If they find the abandoned nest of a similar species (such as a kingfisher), they may also take over that nest instead of building their own.

Between two and four white eggs are laid, and both the male and the female will take turns to incubate these for around 22 days.

The chicks are usually ready to fledge at 20 days of age. They are ready to breed at about two years old.


22 to 24 days.

Life Expectancy

The lifespan of the lilac breasted roller is estimated to be about 10 years.


This species does not have any major predators. There is a small threat posed by the illegal trade of these birds for captivity.


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