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Turacos

birds blue green female

Turacos, or touracos, are 18 species of sub-Saharan birds that make up the family Musophagidae, in the order Cuculiformes, which also includes the cuckoos, anis, coucals, and roadrunner. The usual habitat of turacos is dense tropical forests or forest edges. Turacos do not migrate, although they may move locally.

Turacos are medium- to large-sized birds, with a body length of 1.2-2.5 ft (38-76 cm). They have short, rounded wings, long, broad tails, and small, crested heads. Their bills are short, stout, and slightly hooked at the tip of the upper mandible. The outer toe is highly dexterous, and can be turned and used in a forward or backward position.

Turacos have a soft, thick plumage, colored in hues of green, brown, blue, or gray, with patches of white and red. The feather pigments of turacos are rather unusual. Most birds achieve a green coloration using a combination A Ross's turaco. © Anthony Mercieca, National Audubon Society Collection/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission of yellow and melano-blue pigments, but in turacos an actual, green pigment known as turacoverdin is present in the feathers. Turacos also produce a unique red copper-containing pigment known as turacin.

Turacos are arboreal birds. They are weak, undulating fliers, and they commonly run along branches through tree foliage, suggesting the movements of a small mammal, such as a squirrel. These birds eat fruits, seeds, buds, and invertebrates. The family name, Musophagidae, translates from the Greek as banana eater, although this is a misnomer, because these birds are not actually known to feed on bananas or plantains.

Turacos are somewhat gregarious, congregating in small, noisy groups. Courtship includes fluttering displays to reveal bright patches of coloration, along with raising of the conspicuous crest on the head, and energetic bobbing of the tail. These displays are accompanied by loud calls, and feeding of the female with fruit offered by the male.

Turacos lay two to three eggs in a frail, arboreal nest made of twigs. These are incubated by the female, but both parents share in the feeding and care of the downy young.

The giant blue plantain-eater (Corythaeola cristata) is the biggest turaco, achieving a length of 2.5 ft (76 cm).

Bill Freedman

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