These forest birds are native to Africa and are often vibrantly colored with beautiful violet, blue, or green feathers with flashes of red beneath their wings. They are social, living in noisy flocks of up to 30 birds. Like many birds native to densely forested habitat, turacos are not noteworthy fliers, and they do not migrate. They are more adept at running on branches or jumping from tree to tree using their broad tails for balance. Their middle two toes face forward, but their two outer toes can rotate forward or backward to better perch on tree branches.
Their scientific name, Musophaga, means plantain or banana (genus Musa) eater. While they seldom eat plantains, their diet is largely fruit. Their thick beaks are adapted for a diet of fruit. Since they drop a fair amount of their meal, they provide food for other forest animals, and they assist in seed dispersal, so new trees can grow.
In addition to the spectrum of light that humans perceive, birds can see ultraviolet. Colors in bird feathers can be caused by pigments (which reflect the color wavelength that we see) or by light being refracted by the feather structure. Sometimes it is a combination of both. Turacos are the only birds with feathers that are red and green due to pigmentation. The turaco’s red pigment (turacin) and green pigment (turacoverdin) both contain copper.
When courting, males will flutter their wings and raise the crests on their heads to display their bright colors. Once paired up, the couple will build a nest of twigs and sticks. Both parents take turns incubating the two eggs and feeding the chicks once they hatch, in about three weeks. In about a month, the chicks fledge and begin developing the signature red feathers under their wings. They can fly a few days later.
The Los Angeles Zoo houses:
Violet Turaco (Musophaga violacea)
Lady Ross’s Turaco (Musophaga rossae)
Turacos are found in tropical western, central, and southern Africa in woodlands and forests.
These birds eat mainly fruit—a favorite is figs. They supplement their diet with flowers, seeds, insects, and snails.
Body length is one to two feet with a wingspan of eight inches. Turacos weigh up to one pound. Their lifespan in the wild is five to ten years and up to 30 years in human care.