Scientific Name: Tauraco leucolophus
The presence of two copper pigments in turacos, called red turacin and green turacoverdin, cannot be found in any other bird or animal species.
Fossil evidence dates the turaco’s evolutionary history back to the Cretaceous period, where scientists argue its branch-off from the cuckoo (Cuculiformes) lineage.
STATUS: The white-crested turaco is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
HABITAT: White-crested turacos live in some of the most forested regions of sub-Saharan Africa, from southeast Nigeria to west Kenya. Types of terrain occupied by these birds include open woodland, gallery and riverine forests.
DIET: Turacos are frugivorous (fruit-eating). Their diet relies heavily on the variety of fruits native to sub-Saharan Africa. They will also eat caterpillars, moths, beetles, snails, slugs, termites, and to a lesser extent foliage, flowers, and buds.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Turacos rank among the most colorful birds in Africa. A white-crested turaco has a vibrant shade of dark blue body feathers and lime green plumage on its breast. White feathers extend around the face and then up behind the head in the shape of a Mohawk. Black sits above the beak and between the eyes, where red-bare orbital skin surrounds each eye.
For zoologists, the turaco’s most distinctive feature, apart from the copper pigments, is its semi-zygodactylous toes. Each claw has a pair of toes that face forward and a pair that face backwards (8 toes in all), but turacos have a more flexible toe on the rear of each claw that can move to the side. This flexibility makes for easy grip and tree-climbing.
You Can't Judge a Book by its Cover
Scientists have long debated the superficial resemblances between turacos and cuckoos. The turaco has several distinctions that differentiate it from the cuckoo, including the possession of copper pigmentation and semi-zygodactylous toes. Genetically, turacos have more in common with Strigiformes (owls) or Caprimulgiformes (“nightbirds”).