“Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind” – Amit Ray

When one visits Londolozi, there are so many amazing animals that we could possibly encounter. The magnificent size of an elephant that leaves us in awe. The majesty of a leopard crawling through the shady cover of the Sand River to name a few. All these animals have superlative features but none of these features compare to the virtual rainbow of colours of a relatively small bird, the Lilac breasted roller.


The striking plumage of the lilac breasted roller. Photograph by Phil Judd

These birds sit perched on the top of trees like royalty, proudly displaying their striking colours whilst closely monitoring the ground beneath their feet for unfortunate prey such as insects, lizards, small rodents, and even small birds. Their bills are hooked and extremely strong thereby enabling them to catch quite large prey for their rather smallish size.

The one feature that separates the lilac breasted from any other birds is its “rolling” ability. The bird produces spectacular aerial displays during the mating season. Lilac breasted rollers will fly high up into the air and then “dive” to the ground from a considerable elevation, and then rock side to side in the air while simultaneously letting out a raucous call to attract a partner. If there is one attribute this awe-inspiring does not own, it is a singing voice. Well, unfortunately one cannot have everything now, can you?


A very cold winters morning. A lilac breasted roller puffs its feathers up to trap a layer of warm air between the feathers and body. Photograph by Lucien Beaumont

After the freefall to the earth it leaves the best part for last, it rocks its body, almost like a belly dancer, swaying back and forth while keeping its head perfectly still. This is the final instalment in its endeavour to find a suitable mate.


The ever beautiful Lilac breasted Roller. Photograph by Simon Smit

The lilac breasted roller is a firm favourite of professional or aspiring photographers and layman’s alike. So much so, that the lilac breasted roller is regarded as the most photographed bird in the world!

There is a story about a young German gentleman by the name of Adolf Stolke, who was riding on a train through the Kruger National Park in the early 1900’s. As the train slowed to allow elephants to cross the rail, Adolf noticed a lilac breasted roller perched on the branch of a tree. This was the most beautiful bird he had ever seen and decided to catch one to keep as a collector’s item. Without further ado he grabbed his rifle and jumped off the train in hot pursuit of this bird. Unfortunately for Adolf, Murphy had already written the script… As he jumped out the train, a shot went off! Poor Adolf had shot himself in the foot and was severely injured. A couple of days later he passed away due to gangrene. There is still a commemorative plaque in respect of his efforts as a conservationist in the Kruger National Park today. The allure of the lilac breasted roller was too big for him to simply let it be, and he paid the price for it.

The lilac breasted roller is a fairytale creature out of a children’s storybook that has been brought to life. Its enchantment simply draws you in, and there is no other alternative but to look at it and realise that breathtaking beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.

Take a look at the video below of Londolozi Tracker in Training Sersant Sibuyi and his impressive ability to imitate bird calls:

Written by: Werner Breedt, Londolozi Ranger. 


Filed under Life Wildlife

About the Author

Werner Breedt

Field Guide

Werner guided at Londolozi from 2014-2016, but misses it so much now that he is based down in the Western Cape that he begged to be able to continue contributing to the blog. Look out for his posts on a wide range of ...

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on The Most Beautiful Bird in The Bush

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Marinda Drake

Awesome blog Werner. Lovely story about Adolf Stolke.


Thank you Marinda, poor Adolf though!

Brian C

One of my favorite birds… hope to see one live one day. Its not just the big cats– the birds of South Africa are amazing in variety. Some of the bee eaters are also very beautiful, if not as flamboyantly colorful as the lilac breasted roller.


So true Brian. Its the small things that make the bush as beautiful as it is! Come and visit Londolozi and we will show you a beautiful Lilac Breasted Roller in real life, maybe we can even add a bee-eater or two! Good luck with your search!

Jeff Rodgers

My favorite bird to see and photograph. And thanks for the great story.


All a pleasure Jeff!

Shveta Trivedi

An addictive photo subject for sure…I had to be banned from photographing ‘another LBR’ on our drives.
Thank you Werner for the informative story on this beautiful bird.


Pleasure Shveta! That is quite funny! One thing everyone must remember is that photography about patience! Good luck with all the photos!

Jill Grady

Great blog Werner and amazing pictures of one of the most beautiful birds! I loved your bird calls Sersant!


Thank you Jill! Indeed he is a talented man!


Stunning, also known as Mzilikazi’s Roller as its feathers were used for ceremonious activities.

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