TNB Night Owl – Turacos, Turacin, Turacoverdin

Red-crested turaco. Image captured by the News Blender.

Africa is home to many well known species; elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions, and apes are probably what immediately come to mind for most people. Yet there are many exotic bird species in Africa which are overlooked. Turacos are a family (Musophagidae) of avians indigenous to West Africa that, because of their brightly colored feathers, look like they might be related to parrots, but are not. In fact, they’re most closely related to cuckoos.

Guinea turaco

The red-crested turaco (Tauraco erythrolophus) and the guinea turaco (Tauraco persa) are two beautiful examples from the Musophagidae family. (Musophagidae means ‘banana-eaters’.) They aren’t great flyers, and as such they prefer to run on tree branches or take short flights from one branch to another to get around. Unsurprisingly, they aren’t migratory birds.

What makes turacos unique over almost every other bird species is the pigmentation of their feathers. Most coloration in birds is derived from the carotenoids and phaeomelanins in the food they eat. Turaco feather coloration is due to different compounds: turacoverdin and turacin are naturally occurring pigments containing copper. Turacoverdin results in vivid, true green, while turacin is a true red. The reds and greens of other birds, such as parrots, aren’t really red and green, but a combination of colors that appear to human eyes as red or green. For example, green parrot feathers are actually a combination of blue and yellow.

Scientific Classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Musophagiformes
Family: Musophagidae
Genus: Tauraco

Species: T. erythrolophus (Red-crested turaco)
Binomial name: Tauraco erythrolophus (Vieillot, 1819)

Species: T. persa (Guinea turaco)
Binomial name: Tauraco persa (Linnaeus, 1758)

To be honest, I’d never heard of turacos up until an hour ago. Apparently some people keep them as pets, as described in this video from an animal rescue organization. They do come across as charming animals.

“Our Turacos: New Homes, Training, and More” (9:52)

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About Richard Doud 622 Articles
Learning is a life-long endeavor. Never stop learning. No one is right all the time. No one is wrong all the time. No exceptions to these rules.