Rollers Robed in Rainbows!

Rollers Robed in Rainbows!

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.  (Psalm 19:1)

Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the fowls of heaven?  (Job 35:11)


LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER   (Answers Africa photo)

The beauty shown above is a LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER (Coracias caudatus), what you might call a “roller robed in rainbows”, living mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.  This roller is also known as “Mosilikatze’s Roller” (an allusion to the African king Mzilikazi, who once ruled what later became known as Rhodesia and now Zimbabwe  —  King Mzilikazi was noted in the writings of Dr. David Livingstone, the famous missionary).

“Rollers” are classified by taxonomists (i.e., biological category “groupies”) as Coraciiformes, a fancy word meaning “raven-form”(i.e., outwardly resembling a raven or crow), which suggests that rollers appear to be kin to (or at least superficially similar to) other Coraciiformes, such as bee-eaters, kingfishers, motmots, and todies – many of which, like rollers, are also very colorful insect-eaters.  (These rollers love to eat insects, yet they also eat lizards, arachnids, snails, little birds, and even tiny rodents.)

The name “roller” refers to the airborne acrobatics that these birds perform during courtship displays and showy territorial flights. Rollers are also known for their monogamy, i.e., being loyal to their respective mates.  Rollers usually live in warm parts of the Eastern Hemisphere, especially parts of Africa.


LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER   (Wikipedia Commons)

This blog’s readers may recall an earlier post about a different Coraciiforme, the splendidly painted Turquoise-browed Motmot, (Eumomota superciliosa) of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula  — see “Hidden-in-Plain-View Lesson from a Motmot:  God’s Beauty Outshines Human Ugliness” [ ].


TURQUOISE-BROWED MOTMOT   (Dominic Mitchell photograph)

The Turquoise-browed Motmot’s bright cyan/turquoise and pale blue plumage, offset by green and cinnamon pastels, is brightened by brilliant cobalt/peacock blue/indigo parts, presenting very conspicuous coloring easy to see and to appreciate, especially if one is a birdwatcher.  However, as shown above, the African Lilac-breasted Roller is well attired with its own color-blended plumage! .  Look (below) at the Rollers’ pastel greens, cyan, and lilac/lavender plumage, contrasted with their brilliant peacock blue plumage on their backs!  Obviously God enjoys using bright colors on bird feathers!


LILAC-BREASTED ROLLERS   (photograph by Rob Ellis, Tanzania)

The magnificently colored LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER picture (above) was taken by Rob Ellis (of New Tribes Mission), in Kunduchi, Tanzania.   Rob Ellis has thus documented a small yet glamorous example of God’s glorious creativity  —  what elegantly painted rollers they are, as they perch using utility structures!  (Thanks, Rob!)

Although Coraciiformes are not classified taxonomically as “passerines” (whereas crows and ravens are deemed “passerines”), rollers certainly know the skill of perching (illustrated above), as they watch for their next insect prey.

The psalmist told us that “the heavens declare the glory of God”(Psalm 19:1; see also Psalm 97:6) –  and they do!  Yet also recall that the ancient Hebrews considered the skies (i.e., the air-filled atmosphere above the land and seas) as part of the “heavens” (Genesis 1:20; Genesis 7:23; Job 35:11; Psalm 104:12; Jeremiah 4:25; Ezekiel 31:13; Daniel 4:12; etc.),  —  so it should not surprise us when we see God’s creative glory displayed in such beautiful birds as the Lilac-breasted Rollers, in Tanzania, that Rob Ellis has photographed for us to see.




Hidden-in-Plain-View Lesson from a Motmot: by James J. S. Johnson

Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) perching from JJSJ

Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) perching from JJSJ

Hidden-in-Plain-View Lesson from a Motmot: 

God’s Beauty Outshines Human Ugliness

by James J. S. Johnson

The turquoise-browed motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) is an amazingly beautiful bird that few will see in the wild.  That kingfisher-like bird is a living testimony of God’s beauty and care.  Yet what a contrast that bird is to some of the ugliness sinful mankind has soiled this weary world with.  Consider the following as an illustration of this bittersweet contrast.

Consider the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. At the top of the Temple of Kukulcan in Chichen Itza, human sacrifices took place. A stone knife was used to slice open the victim’s chest cavity, the heart was pulled out, held up as a sacrifice to the sun god while it was still beating, the head was severed, and the body tumbled down the stairs. Once the bloody bodies reached the bottom of the stairs, they were often eaten. Is it any wonder that the Mayas had problems with plagues, dying of diseases by the thousands?  (Providentially, God used Spanish conquistadors, such as Hernando Cortez, to abolish this genocidal holocaust.)

Also, there is a sinkhole located north of the Mayan Temple of Kukulcan, which is called the Sacred Cenote, or “Well of Sacrifice,” where they would toss people in to die by drowning in the murky water, and then the spectators would drink the water.  Some of the walls, not far from the temple and the cenote, exhibit rows upon rows (comparable to courses of bricks laid by bricklayers) of skull carvings (called “tzompantli”). The facial shape and expression of each skull carving is different—not just one generic skull model. Perhaps the sculptors were probably looking at different skulls when they carved them. Hundreds, even thousands of humans were sacrificed by the Mayas of the Yucatan and their neighbors. Similar holocausts were committed by the Aztecs of Central Mexico, where human sacrifices were processed in the Nahuatl language.

Fallen humanity, if unrestrained by the gospel and redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ, is a very ugly and cruel thing to see. Instead of seeing God’s traits of kindness, goodness, intelligence, the exact opposite is seen. In this Chichen Itza is no different than many other cultures, including the humanistic (human-preoccupied) cultures of our modern world. Humans have ignored God’s prior judgments and will continue to do so. God provides a witness; He provides an opportunity of deliverance through His grace, but many reject it.

But there is a brighter side to all of this:  God never leaves Himself without a witness (or a remnant).

Ironically, Chichen Itza displays not only God’s wrath (which is displayed by how God historically gave the bloodthirsty Mayas over to their own sinfulness), but also, if you look carefully, there is an avian exhibit of God’s love of beauty, even there: the turquoise-browed motmot which inhabits this region of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa)-closeup from JJSJ

Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa)-closeup from JJSJ

Specifically, if you walk northward from Kukulcan’s temple to the cenote (sacrifice sink-hole), there is a forest edge on the west side of the pathway, just before you arrive at the cenote, and in the large tree there (at that forest edge), creation scientists (Dr. Jan Mercer and this author) have observed turquoise-browed motmots perched in plain sight of those who walk by.  Here you can see two “pipe-cleaner” extensions of the tail, both with a colorful “brush” or “fan” on the end of those long tail feathers. What a beautiful bird!—a witness of God’s beauty in a place that was loaded with cruelty.

Unlike the colorful racquet-tailed turquoise-browed motmot, the Mayan handiwork at Chichen Itza was mostly a glorification of vile death, wretched idolatry, and ugly cruelty.  Tragically, for many generations, there, God’s truth was rejected, and idolatry prevailed.  The result is they “changed the truth of God into a lie” (Romans 1:25). What does God do with those who reject His Creatorship, according to Romans chapter one?  God punishes them with a “reprobate mind” (Romans 1:28), something like spiritual insanity. The “reprobate mind” judgment does not wait until the next life; it is imposed in this earthly life! One of the severest punishments that God ever imposes, unto those who reject the witness of His Creatorship and His glory, is that He gives people over to their love-of-the-lie wickedness.  (Romans 1:24).

Interestingly, the verb (in Romans 1:24) is an aorist verb, meaning the action is viewed as an event, as if it happened in a moment. It doesn’t mean it literally happened in just a split second, but it means it is being viewed as one action or one unit. There was a specific time when someone had rejected so much God-provided truth, inexcusably, that God said, “That’s it. I’m giving you over.” It’s a scary thing when God pulls back His restraints and mankind is allowed to just live out the selfish ugliness that is in the human heart.

When we reflect upon the season of Christmas, which we should do (suspending our distractions long enough to recall the Reason for this season), we should appreciate that God sent Christ to save a race of helplessly wretched sinners, Adam’s fallen race,   —  us  —  from the ugliness of self-proud and self-deluded ungodliness.  Yes, we all desperately need a Savior, Jesus Christ the righteous.  It is our Lord Jesus Christ – the Reason for the (CHRISTmas) season  —  Who is the author and finisher of everything that is truly beautiful in our lives.  God loves beauty, but our ungodliness is ugly.  So only God can (and does, if we avail ourselves to Him) salvage and remediate us from ugliness, both here and hereafter.  What a generous and gracious Kinsman-Redeemer Jesus is!

So even at Chichen Itza, a monument to human ugliness, we have the turquoise-browed motmot! —a wonderful witness of God’s shining beauty and love of life.   ><> JJSJ

Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) ©WikiC

Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) ©WikiC

(Adapted from James J. S. Johnson, “Turquoise-browed Motmot at Chichen Itza: Contrasting God’s Beauty with Mayan Ugliness”, Norfolk Heritage Review, June 1999; © AD1999 James J. S. Johnson)


Other articles by James J. S. Johnson

Motmot Family – Momotidae – Motmots