Some savanna birds are exquisitely colourful, and the Lilac-breasted Roller is no exception. These brightly coloured birds with their lilac-purple and turquoise blue plumage quickly catch the eye as they fly across the bushveld landscape. Unlike the European Roller Coracias garrulus, a seasonal migrant, the Lilac-breasted Roller can be seen year-round. They do however travel vast distances over the season to keep pace with regular food supplies.
Lilac-breasted Rollers are fond of open woodland and adaptable to a range of savanna types, from the dry Kalahari, across the Central Bushveld and into the Lowveld, where they are a common site in reserves such as the Kruger National Park. They are also common in miombo (Brachystegia) and mopane (Colophospermum) woodland, and abundant in the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana. Elsewhere these birds are found across East Africa reaching Eritrea in the north.
Rollers are primarily insectivores feeding on grasshoppers, crickets, ants, termites, moths and butterflies, as well as other invertebrates including millipedes, snails, spiders and scorpions. They will even feed on relatively noxious prey types. In addition, they will take small lizards, snakes and frogs. They hawk some insects by perching then swooping down on their prey. Larger items are beaten against a perch to subdue them and make them more manageable.
Breeding is seasonal, taking place throughout summer, and they are monogamous and solitary breeders. Nests are inside hollow cavities in trees. Two to four eggs are laid, and these are incubated between 17 – 25 days.
Lilac-breasted Rollers are easily observable in most savanna nature reserves and national parks. They are easily photographed or observed as they often perch near roadsides where they can easily spot prey moving across the road. Unfortunately, this behaviour results in many birds being hit by fast-moving cars.