The turacos make up the family Musophagidae (literally "banana-eaters"), which includes plantain-eaters and go-away-birds. In southern Africa both turacos and go-away-birds are commonly known as louries. They are semi-zygodactylous - the fourth (outer) toe can be switched back and forth. The second and third toes, which always point forward, are conjoined in some species. Musophagids often have prominent crests and long tails; the turacos are noted for peculiar and quite unique pigments giving them their bright green and red feathers.
Traditionally, this group has been allied with the cuckoos in the order Cuculiformes, but the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy raises this group to a full order Musophagiformes. They have been proposed to link the mysterious Hoatzin to the other living birds1] but this was later disputed.
Ecology and Behavior
Musophagids are medium-sized arboreal birds endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, where they live in forests, woodland and savanna. Their flight is weak, but they run quickly through the tree canopy. They feed mostly on fruits and to a lesser extent on leaves, buds, and flowers, occasionally taking small insects, snails, and slugs Contrary to what the names might suggest, they generally do not eat bananas or plantains and indeed wild-living musophagids do not seem to use Musa as food at all.
They are gregarious birds that do not migrate. Many species are noisy, with the go-away-birds being especially noted for their piercing alarm calls, which alert other fauna to the presence of predators or hunters; their common name refers to this. Musophagids build large stick nests in trees, and lay 2 or 3 eggs. The young are born with thick down and open, or nearly-open, eyes.
The Go-away-birds and plantain-eaters are mainly grey and white. The turacos on the other hand are brightly colored birds, usually blue, green or purple. The green color in turacos comes from turacoverdin, the only true green pigment in birds known to date. Other "gree ns" in bird colors result from a yellow pigment such as some carotenoid, combined with the prismatic physical structure of the feather itself which scatters the light in a particular way and giving a blue color. Turaco wings contain the red pigment turacin, unlike in other birds where red color is due to carotenoids. Both pigments are derived from porphyrins and only known from the Musophagidae at present, but especially the little-researched turacoverdin might have relatives in other birds.
Evolution and Systematics
The fossil genus Veflintornis is known from the Middle Miocene of Grive-Saint-Alban (France). It was established as Apopempsis by Pierce Brodkorb in 1971, but this is preoccupied by Schenkling's 1903 use of the name for some beetles. "Apopempsis" africanus (Early Miocene of Kenya) might also belong there.
Further fossil material of putative musophagids was found in Egypt as well as in Late Oligocene deposits at Gaimersheim (Germany) and Middle Miocene deposits at Grive-Saint-Alban and Vieux-Collonges (both France). While it is not entirely certain that these fossils indeed are of turacos, it nonetheless appears as if the family evolved in the Oligocene of central Europe or perhaps northern Africa, and later on shifted its distribution southwards. The climate of those European regions during the late Paleogene was not too dissimilar to that of (sub)tropical Africa today; the Saharan desert was not yet present and the distance across the Mediterranean was not much more than what it is today. Thus such a move south may well have been a very slow and gradual shifting of a large and continuous range.
The Early Eocene Promusophaga was initially believed to be the oldest record of the turacos; it was eventually reconsidered a distant relative of the ostrich and is now in the ratite family Lithornithidae. Filholornis from the Late Eocene or Early Oligocene of France is occasionally considered a musophagid, but its relationships have always been disputed. It is not often considered a turaco anymore in more recent times and has been synonymized with the presumed gruiform Talantatos, though it is not certain whether this will become widely accepted.
The living species of Musophagidae, arranged in taxonomic sequence, are:
- Genus Tauraco - green turacos
- Green Turaco, Tauraco persa
- Livingstone's Turaco, Tauraco livingstonii
- Schalow's Turaco, Tauraco schalowi
- Knysna Turaco, Tauraco corythaix
- Black-billed Turaco, Tauraco schuettii
- White-crested Turaco, Tauraco leucolophus
- Fischer's Turaco, Tauraco fischeri
- Yellow-billed Turaco, Tauraco macrorhynchus
- Bannerman's Turaco, Tauraco bannermani
- Red-crested Turaco, Tauraco erythrolophus
- Hartlaub's Turaco, Tauraco hartlaubi
- White-cheeked Turaco, Tauraco leucotis
- Prince Ruspoli's Turaco, Tauraco ruspolii
- Purple-crested Turaco, Tauraco porphyreolophus
- Genus Ruwenzorornis
- Ruwenzori Turaco - Ruswenzorornis johnstoni
- Genus Musophaga - blue turacos
- Violet Turaco, Musophaga violacea
- Ross's Turaco, Musophaga rossae
- Genus Corythaixoides - go-away-birds
- Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Corythaixoides personatus
- Grey Go-away-bird, Corythaixoides concolor
- White-bellied Go-away-bird, Corythaixoides leucogaster
- Genus Crinifer - plantain-eaters
- Grey Plantain-eater, Crinifer piscator
- Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, Crinifer zonurus
- Genus Corythaeola
- Great Blue Turaco, Corythaeola cristata
The Order Musophagiformes is further organized into finer groupings including:
- Family (1): Musophagidae
- Species: ZipcodeZoo has pages for 150 species and subspecies in the Order Musophagiformes.
The turacos make up the family Musophagidae (literally "banana-eaters"), which includes plantain-eaters and go-away-birds. In southern Africa both turacos and go-away-birds are commonly known as louries. They are semi-zygodactylous - the fourth (outer) toe can be switched back and forth. The second and third toes, which always point forward, are conjoined in some species. Musophagids often have prominent crests and long tails; the turacos are noted for peculiar and quite unique pigments giving them their bright green and red feathers. [more]
At least 100 species and subspecies belong to the Family Musophagidae.
More info about the Family Musophagidae may be found here.
- Ballmann, Peter (1969): Les Oiseaux miocčnes de la Grive-Saint-Alban (Isčre) [The Miocene birds of Grive-Saint-Alban (Isčre)]. Geobios 2: 157-204. [French with English abstract] doi:10.1016/S0016-6995(69)80005-7 (HTML abstract)
- Mlíkovský, Jirí (2002): Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press, Prague. ISBN 80-901105-3-8 PDF fulltext
- Hughes, Janice M. & Baker, Allan J. (1999): Phylogenetic relationships of the enigmatic hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin) resolved using mitochondrial and nuclear gene sequences. Molecular Biology and Evolution 16(9): 1300-1307. PDF fulltext
- Sorenson, Michael D.; Oneal, Elen; García-Moreno, Jaime & Mindell, David P. (2003): More Taxa, More Characters: The Hoatzin Problem is Still Unresolved. Molecular Biology and Evolution 20(9): 1484-1499. doi:10.1093/molbev/msg157 PDF fulltext Supplementary Material
- ^ Hughes & Baker (1999)
- ^ Sorenson et al. (2003)
- ^ Marchant, S. (1991). Forshaw, Joseph. ed. Encyclopaedia of Animals: Birds. London: Merehurst Press. pp. 125. ISBN 1-85391-186-0.
- ^ a b c Mlíkovský (2002)
- ^ "TT 149", a proximal left and a distal right tibiotarsus of a bird similar in size to living Tauraco: Ballmann (1969)
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