The Lilac-Breasted Roller: National Bird of Kenya

Lilac-breasted roller in flight
iStock.com/johan63

Written by Cindy Rasmussen

Published: January 3, 2023

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When you think of Kenya you may think of big cats like lions and leopards and the wild hippos, zebras and giraffe, but there are also hundreds of unique bird species. With a country known for its wildlife how do you choose just one bird as your national bird? Did they choose the elegant grey-crowned crane, the powerful African fish eagle or the beautiful pink flamingoes? Read on to find out all about the national bird of Kenya!

What is the National Bird of Kenya?

The national bird of Kenya is the lilac-breasted roller. One look at these birds’ stunning iridescent feathers and you will see why these beauties represent Kenya. Spotting one perched in a nearby tree is quite a sight to behold but wait until you see these birds in flight. The wing feathers are a mix of dark purple and brilliant blue with black-tipped turquoise tail feathers. The lower body is turquoise and their breasts (as their name indicates) are a soft lilac. Their heads have a green crown, cream band above each eye and rust-colored cheeks. A mix of brown feathers are on their backs and wings.

National bird of Kenya is the lilac-breasted roller

The national bird of Kenya is the lilac-breasted roller which has stunning iridescent feathers.

What is a Roller Bird?

The lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) is one of about 12 species of “roller birds” in the family Coraciidae. These birds get their name from the rolling and diving they perform during their courting rituals. The male swoops down from their high perch to impress the female. Rollers are 10-13 inches tall and are typically bright colored in shades of blue and purple. They can be found in Europe, Asia and Africa with several species living in Kenya.

Where does the Lilac-Breasted Roller Live?

The lilac-breasted roller lives in sub-Saharan Africa. Besides living in Kenya they can be found in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, a corner of South Africa. Their habitat includes savannah and woodlands where they have access to trees for perching. It is not common to find them in urban areas or close to humans.

The lilac-breasted roller in Kenya

The lilac-breasted roller gets it name from the rolling and diving performed during courting rituals.

Is the National Bird of Kenya Featured on the Flag?

No. The national bird is not on the flag of Kenya. A Maasai shield is featured on the Kenyan flag representing the traditional lifestyle of the Maasai people. The shield is red with black and white eclipse/oval designs. There are two white spears crossed behind the shield. The flag itself has three broad horizontal stripes of black, red and green with thin white stripes dividing the colors. On December 12, 1963 Kenya celebrated their official independence from Britain.

The lilac-breasted roller is not on the flag of Kenya

The lilac-breasted roller is not on the flag of Kenya which instead showcases a Maasai shield.

What Animals are Featured on the Kenyan Currency?

The Kenyan currency features the “Big Five” animals of Kenya. The Big Five refers to the five iconic animals of Kenya. Much thought and effort was put into designing the currency of Kenya to best represent the country. Each of the banknotes in Kenya has a theme like green energy and agriculture, as well as one of the Big Five animals. Here is the representation of the Kenyan shillings:

AmountThemeAnimal
50 ShillingsGreen Energy: Wind, Geothermal and Solar PowerAfrican Buffalo
100 ShillingsAgriculture: Maize, Tea, LivestockLeopard
200 ShillingsSocial Services: Medical Services, Education, AthleticsRhino
500 ShillingsTourism: Beach, Parks, SimbaLion
1000 ShillingsGovernance: ParliamentElephant

What Other Animals Live in Kenya?

There are thousands of species of animals in Kenya. Besides the Big Five animals of East African lion, leopard, rhino, African bush elephant and African buffalo there are hundreds of animals that roam the savannahs of Kenya. There are also plenty of species just off the coast that make the Indian Ocean their home and don’t forget about the freshwater species that live in and around lakes, rivers and streams like Lake Victoria, the biggest lake in Africa. Other animals that live in Kenya include hippos, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest,  and cheetahs. Unique animals like long-legged secretary birds that look like a hawk on ostrich legs and the vulturine guineafowl that looks like a mix between a bald-headed vulture and a colorful blue guineafowl can be found in the country too.

Off the coast there are several dive sites or you can charter a boat to check out the marine animals of Kenya. Divers may see colorful parrot fish, porcupine fish, pufferfish and maybe a friendly dolphin. Other animals include the whale sharks, loggerhead turtles, dugongs (similar to manatees) and tuna. Freshwater fish that can be found inland include Nile perch, cichlids, African catfish, Nile tilapia and dagaa (sometimes called the Lake Victoria sardine).

Lake Victoria is home to freshwater species in Kenya

Lake Victoria is the biggest lake in Africa and home to many freshwater species in Kenya.

What is the National Animal of Kenya?

The national animal of Kenya is the lion. Lions represent courage and strength, characteristics the people of Kenya are known to exhibit. Commonly referred to as the “King of the Jungle” and featured in popular stories like Disney’s The Lion King. You can find lions at some of the wildilife reserves like the Masai Mara Game Reserve as well as in some of the national parks. Lions live in family groups called prides that are made up of 15-20 lions. Did you know you can hear a lion roar up to 8km away (that’s nearly 5 miles!).

Are Lions an Endangered Species?

Lions are listed as either vulnerable or endangered depending on the location in Africa. The lion Panthera leo (West Africa subpopulation) is listed as “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN. Most of the lions in West Africa are located in protected areas but it is still critical that conservation efforts continue to save this population. Can you imagine a generation of kids growing up with only The Lion King movie but no living lions?

Kenya was the first country to ban lion hunting dating back to 1977. A program called the Lion Guardians put young Maasai warriors in charge of caring for individual lions in the wild instead of killing them like they used to as a rite-of-passage. The Maasai are expert lion trackers so they use their skills to track the lions and warn nearby herders to keep their livestock away from that area. Shifts in cultural realities like this help protect the lion populations and lessen the lion-human conflicts that arise.

The national animal of Kenya is the lion

The national animal of Kenya is the lion representing courage and strength, characteristics the people of Kenya are known to exhibit.

Are Lilac-Breasted Rollers an Endangered Species?

No. Lilac-breasted rollers are not endangered. They are listed by the IUCN as “Least Concerned” and are considered to have a stable population. While they are not common in urban or suburban areas they seem to be doing just fine in their natural habitat. One of the commonly reported traits of the lilac-breasted roller is that humans can approach them and get amazingly close. The birds seem to be unconcerned about humans. This is great for nature photographers and bird watchers that try to capture the magnificent coloration of the national bird of Kenya.

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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