Species Generalities
Toe formation
All wild turaco species are found only on mainland Africa - except a sub-species of Fischer's Turaco, T.f.zanzibaricus, which exists on the offshore island of Zanzibar. Most turaco species are found at relatively high altitude. It has been suggested that their feather structure indicates a tolerance of low temperatures. Observations in aviculture, indicate a preference for conditions between 18-25 degrees celsius. All turaco species share an adaptation in toe formation. The foot has a semi-zygodactylus arrangement, in that the outer toe of each foot can face either forwards or backwards. When roosting, the typical arrangement is to have three toes facing forward to increase the hold of a perch, when running along branches the toe formation will tend towards two toes forwards and two backwards, again increasing the grip.
Flight and flying range

Generally, turacos are (or are descended from) forest species, and thus spend much of their time foraging in amongst the branches of trees. As a result of this environment their wings are rounded and their tails long and broad. The degree of roundness does, however, vary as those species prefering open aspect habitats exhibit less rounding although their tails remain long and broad. The presence of such features makes the turaco particularly agile even when flying at speed through thick vegetation.

The evolution of a broad, rounded flight surface does, however, restrict the flying range of the turaco, and as a result their natural geographical movement patterns tend to be limited. Powered upward flight is invariably confined to a number of metres, though they can glide downward over much longer distances.

Given their flying characteristics, it is perhaps understandable that turacos are considered good runners, and prefer to jump from branch to branch instead of flying.

Parental behaviour

Uniquely amongst all creatures the turaco uses copper in the pigmentation of its feathers. The pigments are turacin (red wing pigmentation) and turacoverdin (green pigment).

These pigments are not seen in all of the species and are completely absent from the White-bellied Go-away Bird, and the Eastern and Western Grey Plantain-eaters.

The source of these pigments is copper, present in organic uroporhyrin III, which is ingested, stored and effectively excreted when feathers are discarded at moulting.

The quantative prescence of turacin and turacoverdin links well with the habitats in which various species inhabit. Generally, the greener the habitat, the greater the pronounciation of these copper-based pigments.

Both birds in a pair share parental responsibilities during breeding. Each takes turns to incubate their small clutch of one or two eggs. After the eggs are hatched both parents brood and feed the offspring. Turaco chicks are covered in a thick black or brown down and are quite advanced in their growth by the time they hatch. The chicks tend to grow quickly, and can leave the nest (even before they are able to fly) at about three weeks. In captive conditions, it is possible for young birds to be fully weaned by the same age, but the process usually takes one or two weeks longer.
Eating patterns
As with many other fruit-eating species, the turaco plays an important ecological role in seed dispersal. Their digestion is rapid and often incomplete, so they need to feed at frequent intervals and on comparatively large quantities of fruit. The result of such an eating pattern is that many plant species have their seeds dispursed.

"Why are Bluebirds Blue? The Physics of Structural Colors in Bird Feathers."
Link to this article about feather colours, including comments about turaco feathers, with kind permission of its author: Devorah A. N. Bennu, PhD
Department of Ornithology
The American Museum of Natural History, New York

Web site designs and images copyright © 2024 International Turaco Society