Birds Vol 1 #2 – The Swallow-tailed Indian Roller (Lilac-breasted, Racket-tailed or Abyssinian)

Swallow-tailed Indian Roller for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography - Vol 1-2

Swallow-tailed Indian Roller for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Vol 1-2

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. February, 1897 No. 2



imgsWALLOW-TAILED Indian Rollers are natives of Northeastern Africa and Senegambia, and also the interior of the Niger district. The bird is so called from its way of occasionally rolling or turning over in its flight, somewhat after the fashion of a tumbler pigeon. A traveller in describing the habits of the Roller family, says:

“On the 12th of April I reached Jericho alone, and remained there in solitude for several days, during which time I had many opportunities of observing the grotesque habits of the Roller. For several successive evenings, great flocks of Rollers mustered shortly before sunset on some dona trees near the fountain, with all the noise but without the decorum of Rooks. After a volley of discordant screams, from the sound of which it derives its Arabic name of “schurkrak,” a few birds would start from their perches and commence overhead a series of somersaults. In a moment or two they would be followed by the whole flock, and these gambols would be repeated for a dozen times or more.

“Everywhere it takes its perch on some conspicuous branch or on the top of a rock, where it can see and be seen. The bare tops of the fig trees, before they put forth their leaves, are in the cultivated terraces, a particularly favorite resort. In the barren Ghor I have often watched it perched unconcernedly on a knot of gravel or marl in the plain, watching apparently for the emergence of beetles from the sand. Elsewhere I have not seen it settle on the ground.

“Like Europeans in the East, it can make itself happy without chairs and tables in the desert, but prefers a comfortable easy chair when it is to be found. Its nest I have seen in ruins, in holes in rocks, in burrows, in steep sand cliffs, but far more generally in hollow trees. The colony in the Wady Kelt used burrows excavated by themselves, and many a hole did they relinquish, owing to the difficulty of working it. So cunningly were the nests placed under a crumbling, treacherous ledge, overhanging a chasm of perhaps one or two hundred feet, that we were completely foiled in our siege. We obtained a nest of six eggs, quite fresh, in a hollow tree in Bashan, near Gadara, on the 6th of May.

“The total length of the Roller is about twelve inches. The Swallow-tailed Indian Roller, of which we present a specimen, differs from the Europeon Roller only in having the outer tail feathers elongated to an extent of several inches.”

Lee’s Addition:

Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” (Genesis 1:20 NKJV)

Currently there is not a bird named the Swallow-tailed Indian Roller. Looking at the “photograph,” it appears to be either the Lilac-breasted, Racket-tailed or Abyssinian Roller. Those three have the long tails, “swallow-tail” and they all have black beaks which is typical of the Coracias Genus of the Rollers. The Coraciidae – Rollers family has two Genus, the Coracias and the Eurystomus, which has various colored beaks. None of the three exactly match that drawing, but they are close and in the same family.

The rollers are an Old World family, Coraciidae, of near passerine birds. The group gets its name from the aerial acrobatics some of these birds perform during courtship or territorial flights. Rollers resemble crows in size and build, and share the colourful appearance of kingfishers and bee-eaters, blues and pinkish or cinnamon browns predominating. The two inner front toes are connected, but not the outer one.

They are mainly insect eaters, with Eurystomus species taking their prey on the wing, and those of the genus Coracias diving from a perch to catch food items from on the ground, like giant shrikes.

Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus) by BirdingPix

Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus) by BirdingPix

According to Wikipedia, “the Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus) is a member of the roller family of birds. It is widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa and the southern Arabian Peninsula, preferring open woodland and savanna; it is largely absent from treeless places. Usually found alone or in pairs, it perches conspicuously at the tops of trees, poles or other high vantage points from where it can spot insects, lizards, scorpions, snails, small birds and rodents moving about at ground level. Nesting takes place in a natural hole in a tree where a clutch of 2–4 eggs is laid, and incubated by both parents, who are extremely aggressive in defence of their nest, taking on raptors and other birds. During the breeding season the male will rise to great heights, descending in swoops and dives, while uttering harsh, discordant cries. The sexes are alike in coloration. Juveniles do not have the long tail feathers that adults do. It is also the national bird of Botswana.”

Racket-tailed Roller (Coracias spatulatus) ©WikiC

Racket-tailed Roller (Coracias spatulatus) ©WikiC

“The Racket-tailed Roller (Coracias spatulatus) is a species of bird in the Coraciidae family. It is found in Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Abyssinian Roller (Coracias abyssinicus) ©WikiC

Abyssinian Roller (Coracias abyssinicus) ©WikiC

The Abyssinian RollerCoracias abyssinicus, is a member of the roller family of birds which breeds across tropical Africa in a belt south of the Sahara, known as the Sahel. It is resident in the southern part of its range, but northern breeding populations are short-distance migrants, moving further south after the wet season.

Abyssinian Roller is striking in its strong direct flight, with the brilliant blues of the wings contrasting with the brown back and the long tail streamers trailing behind.

This is a common bird of warm open country with some trees, and has adapted to farmland and human habitation. These rollers often perch prominently on trees, posts or overhead wires, like giant shrikes, whilst watching for the large insects and rodents on which they feed. They will dash into the smoke of a forest fire for disturbed invertebrates. They are fearless, and will dive and roll at humans and other intruders.

The display of this bird is a lapwing-like display, with the twists and turns that give this group its English name. It nests in a scantily lined hole in a tree or building, and lays 3-6 eggs.

The call of Abyssinian Roller is a harsh crow-like gak sound, or a screeched aaaargh.

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 February 1897 No 2 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 February 1897 No 2 – Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial for February 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Red Headed Woodpecker and The Drummer Bird

Previous Article – The Blue Jay

Gospel Message


Wikipedia – Lilac-breasted Roller –  Racket-tailed Roller – Abyssinian Roller

They even had ads in the Birds Illustrated by Color Photography.

Singer Pianos Ad

Singer Pianos Ad


5 thoughts on “Birds Vol 1 #2 – The Swallow-tailed Indian Roller (Lilac-breasted, Racket-tailed or Abyssinian)

    • Thanks. I knew it wasn’t the bird the article called it, since there is no bird by that name. Love your story about how the Rollers got their color.


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