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Did you know Kenya has a National Bird?
By Mathenge Matimu
Lilac Breasted Roller-Kenya's national bird
Lilac Breasted Roller-Kenya's national bird. [Courtesy]

Did you know Kenya has a National Bird? The most common guess around is that it is the rooster but no; Kenya’s unofficial national bird is the beautifully coloured Lilac Breasted Roller. Its Swahili name is ‘Kambu’ or ‘Chole’

The bird plummage consists about eight colours boasting lilac and turquoise that most men would have trouble identifying. This strong and swift bird has a robust body and a proportionately large, green head with a heavy black beak. It has a white chin and a white or yellow band above the eyes and beak. Its breast is a dark lilac that grows lighter towards the throat. The abdomen and underside of the wings are turquoise, and the wings’ underside is trimmed with dark blue. The upper part of the wings is reddish brown. Their forked tail, which is also turquoise, ends in black streamers. These wide arrays of colours are supposed to represent the diversity in Kenya in terms of cultures, sceneries, attractions and the country’s uniqueness. The bird is also found in most regions of the country.

Interestingly, unlike most other birds where males are the most attractive, for the Lilac Breasted Roller both females and males are equally dazzling. You cannot tell the difference by the looks. They are not dimorphic.

Lilac Breasted Roller-Kenya's national bird
Lilac Breasted Roller- in flight. [Courtesy]

The bird owes it common name (roller) to its mating display, which consists of a lot of dives and swoops accompanied by loud and harsh cries. During a mating flight, a lilac-breasted roller will fly upwards for about ten metres (33 feet) and then swoop down with wings closed. In another aerial stunt, the lilac-breasted roller will roll from side to side while flying very fast. If the aerial courtship is successful, the two birds will mate in the air.

Lilac-breasted rollers are believed to be monogamous and mate for life. In many African cultures, the lilac-breasted roller symbolises a deep connection between love and marriage.

Lilac Breasted Roller-Kenya's national bird
A Lilac Breasted Roller displays its beautiful plummage.

We hope that when you are touring next, you will be able to see and identify the bird for the first time thus becoming your lifer. We also hope that too you won’t go twitching (travel far) to find the lilac breasted roller.