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Introducing the Turacos (Family Musophagidae), With Notes on an Unusual Individual

Twenty two species of turaco inhabit central and southern Africa and, oddly for a continent with such a diversity of unique wildlife, they comprise the only family of birds limited in distribution to Africa.  Many are spectacularly colored in glossy green, red and violet, and are lent some of these hues by pigments unknown in other birds.  They bound from branch to branch, uttering odd, bark-like cries and flaring their characteristic head crests.


All turacos are largely frugivorous and, indeed, are one of the few birds known to feed fruit to their nestlings.  The young are also unique in (along with the even stranger hoatzin) possessing claws at the wing joint that allow them to clamber about the branches.

 Red-Crested Tauraco

The first turaco I had contact with was an Angolan Red-Crested (Tauraco erythrolophus), housed at the Bronx Zoo.  As we know, hand-raised birds often imprint upon humans and mature into animals that, while good pets, behave somewhat abnormally.  I have related previously the tale of a Great Horned Owl that attempted to “court” his keepers by attempting to stuff mice into our mouths.  Zoos seeking to release hand-reared birds back to the wild, as has been done with California Condors, utilize hand puppets when feeding the nestlings to prevent imprinting.


Well, the turaco in question, christened “Bloody Mary” for the cuts she left about the head and ears of anyone entering her exhibit, took a differenMe with Turacot view of “imprinting”.  Even when tossed away (gently, of course!), she would fly back and attack, so much so that keepers took to wearing hard hats when feeding her.  She was equally aggressive to other birds, forcing me to install an opaque barrier between her cage and her neighbors, in order to give them some peace. The accompanying photograph shows my friend not seeking a treat or a scratch on the head, but an opportunity to peck at whatever part of me presents itself!


Bloody Mary aside, turacos make spectacular additions to the collections of advanced hobbyists, but they do need a huge flight cage.  


You can read about the care of Red Crested Turacos at Cotswold Wildlife Park, and view photos, at:


About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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