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Bird in the Spotlight: Great Blue Turaco

3 May, 2024

By Alexander Trifunovic

Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata) in Kibale Forest, Uganda. Photo by Giles Laurent, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to a distinctive and colorful family of birds known as the turacos (Musophagidae). These birds are relatively large arboreal frugivores of central Africa’s forests and savannas with prominent crests and long tails. The turacos’ claim to fame is their unique pigment known as turacoverdin that makes them the only birds with true green coloration. The largest species is the Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata) found across Africa’s equatorial rainforests, generally in patches of undisturbed relict forest. This species is easily identified by its large size, greenish-blue plumage, and dark, mohawk-like crest. The bright yellow and red bill is adapted for foraging on fruits, buds, leaves, and flowers, as well as filamentous algae thought to help detoxify their food or provide supplemental protein. Great Blue Turacos typically maintain territories and forage in groups of six or seven individuals, and several groups may congregate at productive fruit trees near territory boundaries. Pairs and not highly territorial, but they are vigilant watching their platform stick nests with one adult always present until the young fledge. Their loud resonant calls and rolling trills echo through the canopies of west Africa’s forests where the Great Blue is one of the more common turaco species in small forest patches. This species is frugivorous and often travels long distances to forage making it a key seed disperser necessary for regenerating and propagating central African forests. Throughout its range, the Great Blue Turaco is hunted for food, trapped for foreign markets, and suffers local declines from deforestation. While this species is not globally threatened, many countries in west Africa lack education and outreach about birds, and understanding how the turaco plants the forests would benefit not only the Great Blue Turaco, but the countless other species and people that rely on the forest to survive. 

Habitat of the Great Blue Turaco near Lake Barombi, Cameroon. Photo by A.R. Etoyiva, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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