The average size of the Lilac Breasted Roller is 14.5 inches. The washed green head is large, the neck is short, the greenish yellow legs are rather short and the feet are small. The beak is strong, arched and hooked-tipped. The tail is narrow and of medium length. The back and scapulars are brown. The shoulder of the wing, outer webs of the flight feathers and the rump are all violet. The bases of the primaries and their coverts are pale greenish blue and the outer tail feathers are elongated and blackish. The chin is whitish, shading to rich lilac of the breast. The underparts are greenish blue. The bill is black and the eyes are brown. It has large wings and strong flight.
The Lilac Breasted Roller feeds on grasshoppers, beetles, occasionally lizards, crabs, and small amphibians. They take prey from the ground.
They make unlined nests in natural tree holes or in termite hills. Sometimes they take over woodpecker's or kingfisher's nest holes. They lay 2-4 white eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for 22-24 days. At 19 days the chicks are fully feathered and grayish brown.
Rollers get their name from their impressive courtship flight, a fast, shallow dive from considerable elevation with a rolling or fast rocking motion, accompanied by loud raucous calls.
All rollers appear to be monogamous and highly territorial. The Lilac Breasted Roller will perch on a dead tree, surveying the area for prey. One typical aspect of its behavior is that it also preys on animals fleeing from bush fires. It is a swift flier, indulging in acrobatics during the breeding season. They actually breed 'on the wing'. They live in pairs or small groups, but are often seen alone.
Their call is a loud harsh squawk, 'zaaak'. They are partly migratory, but in some areas they are sedentary. To feed they swoop down from an elevated perch next to their prey and eat it on the ground or return to a perch where they batter it before swallowing it whole. They are territorial, also defending temporarily small feeding territories; hence individuals are regularly spaced along roads. They drive off many species from near their nest hole, even after breeding.
Grasslands, open woods and regions where palm trees grow singly.
Where they are found
The species ranges more or less continuously throughout eastern and southern Africa from the Red Sea coasts of Ethiopia and northwest Somalia to the Angola coast and northern South Africa. Lilac Breasted Rollers inhabit acacia country with well spaced trees, rolling bushy game lands, riverside areas and cultivated land, but they do not associate with human habitation.