Touracos

Robert J. Berry

Abstract


q ouracos (family Masophagidae) are a spectacular group of unique softbill birds which range over scattered portions of the

African continent. These pigeon-sized relatives of the cuckoo are extremely popular as avicultural subjects due to the relative ease of their captive maintenance, the brilliant coloration exhibited by many species, and their interesting and active behavior. Morony, et. al. behavior. Morony, et. al. 0975) list five genera representing a total of 19 species. Of these, the members of the genus Touraco have received the most widespread avicultural attention.

Prior to the now infamous bird embargo of 1972 numbers of these birds were regularly imported. A review of the available literature indicates that a number of species have been bred successfully in captivity. Unfortunately, there are few published accounts of their successful breeding in this country. The fact that the majority of the reported successes occurred in relatively large, heavily planted aviaries may have led many aviculturists to believe they could not be easily raised in lesser facilities. This is not true.

 

While our initial touraco breeding at the Houston Zoo did, in fact, occur in a large, indoor conservatory aviary measuring 80 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 20 feet high, our most successful production has occurred in a series of small outdoor exhibits. Each of these units measures 7 1/2 feet wide and 15 feet deep, with a 7 foot height in the open flight and a 10 foot height in the covered shelter.

In 1977, four pair of birds housed in these small aviaries reared a total of 21 chicks, seven White-cheekeds, T. Ieucotis, five Red-crested, T. erythrolopbus, seven Schalow's, T. schalowi, and two White-crested, T Ieucolophus. Considering the fact that touracos only lay two eggs in a clutch, this is a remarkable testament to their reproductive potential in captivity.

Due to the extremely territorial behavior of adult pairs in breeding con-

 

dition, we do not recommend attempting to breed touracos in colonies. We feel the major factor contributing to our success was the segregation of specimens into individual pairs. Accurately sexing them can present some problems, since they are not dimorphic. For making tentative determinations, we rely on behavioral interactions and pairings in group situations.

By banding, or otherwise identifying individuals in a group, the selection of true pairs is relatively easy. There are, however, always odd individuals which remain a question. For this reason, laparoscopy has proven to be a valuable tool. In the hands of a skilled clinician, the surgical risks are minimal, and the procedure is quick and conclusive.

Touracos reach sexual maturity during their first year. Most of our pairs nest almost randomly throughout the year with peak breeding activity occurring from December through July. Both adults share in the incubation process which averages 21 to 23 days for the species which have bred in the zoo's collection. The precocial young are covered with a dense coat of sooty black down and are fed by regurgitation. They develop rapidly and, sur-

 

prisingly, leave the nest before they are fully fledged. During this critical period, they are closely tended by the adults as they clamor about in branches near the nest. At this age, except for the vivid red wing bar across the flight feathers, their somber juvenile plumage gives little hint of the dazzling adult coloration which is gradually acquired during their first few months of life.

Our basic husbandry program for this group of birds is quite simple. Being primarily frugivorous, their diet consists of a mixture of freshly diced fruits such as apple, banana, and papaya, plus whole grapes, chopped greens and soaked raisins. These items are sprinkled twice weekly with a vitamin/mineral supplement. Soaked Purina dog chow, dry mynah pellets, and game bird crumbles are also provided. Non-breeding birds are fed once daily, as early in the morning as the keeper work schedule permits. When young are being reared, a second feeding is offered late in the afternoon, and a few mealworms and small pieces of Zupreem bird of prey diet are added to their regular ration.

 


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