Chapter 25


Maryanne E. Tocidlowski

General Biology and Ecology

The family Musophagidae is made up of the group of birds called turacos, including plantain-eaters and go-away birds. They are naturally found in the sub-Saharan region of Africa occupying the forest, woodland, and savanna regions. Previously, turacos had been placed in the order Cuculiformes, but evidence led to placing them in their own order Musophagiformes.9,15 They were associated with cuckoos because of a particular anatomic feature, that is, zygodactyl toes, in which digits 2 and 3 face forward and digits 1 and 4 face backward, although digit four is flexible and may face toward the back or the front. Other than the toe arrangement, no other commonalities between cuckoos and turacos exist.21,22

The family Musophagidae is divided into six genera (Turaco, Ruwenzorornis, Musophaga, Corythaixoides, Crinifer, and Corythaeola), which contain 23 species and 38 subspecies. Others have divided the turacos under a suborder Musophagae, which is further subdivided into three groups of Corythaeolinae (1 species Corythaeola), Criniferinae (5 species Corythaixoides and Crinifer), and Musophaginae (17 species Tauraco, Ruwenzorornis, Musophaga).22

Turacos are long-lived, medium- to large-sized birds, ranging in body weight from 200 to 400 grams (g) with the great blue turaco weighing up to and over 1 kilogram (kg). They have long tails, conspicuous head crests, stout beaks, and colorful feathering. Most species of turacos have unique pigments in their feathers: turacoverdin, a true green pigment found only in these birds, and turacin, a true red pigment. These pigments are copper based and not made from carotenoids as in other bird species. This pigmentation specialty in turacos has been well described.9,22 During handling, the feathers may exfoliate easily as a defense mechanism. Turacos are sexually monomorphic, with the exception of the white-bellied go-away bird, in this species the female’s beak is a dull green and the male’s is black. Sexing may be done by feather or blood deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analysis or laparoscopic examination.10,14 Turacos are arboreal, gregarious, active birds. They are poor flyers but are able to run in the trees and foliage quite well. Anatomically, turacos are similar to other bird species with the exception that they have little or no ceca, a distensible esophagus with no crop, a thick muscular proventriculus and a thin-walled ventriculus, a relatively larger liver for its body size, and a short intestinal tract.11 Turacos regurgitate food when stressed or captured. It is important to allow this to occur so that the bird does not aspirate food particles.


Turacos are active birds and require space to move around. Flight cages or aviaries that are heavily planted seem to work best in providing perching, shelter, and hiding places. During the colder months, access to indoor housing, a shelter, or windbreak with a heat source is needed, as turacos are susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. During the hotter months, these birds cool themselves by gular fluttering and sitting in the shade and enjoy bathing in a sprinkler or water bath. They may be housed with other species but may become territorial and aggressive toward others, especially birds of similar size. Caution must be taken, even with bonded pairs, that birds are not aggressive toward each other. Occasional separation of birds may be needed to inhibit an aggressive bird attacking its cage mate. Juveniles should be separated from the parents once they are able to feed themselves reliably.3,20


The dietary requirements of turacos have not been well established. The family Musophagidae is generally vegetarian, tending more toward frugivory and folivory, but do occasionally supplement their diet with various small invertebrates, especially around breeding season.12,18 Contrary to its name Musophagidae, turacos and plantain-eaters (Crinifer sp.) do not ingest bananas or plantains (Musa).21 In captivity, turacos have been fed various diet formulations. A good general diet should consist of a parrot pellet or soft-bill-type pellet with fruit mix and chopped greens, supplemented with a small amount of invertebrates and possibly a meat offering during breeding season. Corythaixoides, Crinifer, and Corythaeola species should be given more greens and leaf browse compared with other turaco species. Mixing the ingredients of the offered diet should help prevent specific item selection by the birds.14,20

Restraint and Handling

Turacos are great runners on branches, which makes them hard to catch. They typically do not bite but will rake with sharp claws. They exfoliate feathers easily when held and sometimes will become overly stressed. Regurgitation of recently eaten food is also common. Inhalation anesthesia is more commonly used for advanced restraint and surgical procedures. It has been suggested that turacos be given time to calm down prior to exposure to isoflurane inhalant anesthesia because of issues caused by stress.12,18,23

Physical Examination, Diagnostics, and Therapy

Examination of turacos may be done under manual or chemical restraint. A thorough examination should include assessment of plumage quality and skin condition, uropygeal gland evaluation, assessment of beak and cere (nares) quality, oral and choanal visualization, feet and nail check, cloaca check, ophthalmic visualization, otic review, auscultation of heart and lungs, coelomic palpation, musculoskeletal review, and assessment of body weight and condition. Blood may be collected from the right jugular vein for larger quantities and the wing vein for smaller samples.14 Clinical pathology data from three common turaco species are provided in Table 25-1. Fecal examination should be done on a regular basis. Turaco feces are typically moist and soft to loose. Familiarity with normal turaco feces is helpful when determining if the bird has dehydration, diarrhea, or enteritis. Direct wet mount examination should be done to visualize protozoans; centrifugation of a flotation solution for checking for parasitic ova; and culture if an enteric pathogen is suspected. Cytologic staining (with Romanovsky’s type, Gram, or acid-fast stain) of fecal smears is helpful if enteritis is suspected. Additional testing (for Cryptosporidium and Giardia; viral culture; electron microscopy) may be applied, where deemed necessary. Medications used to treat turacos are similar to those reported for other avian species. Turacos may be individually identified by a leg bracelet or a transponder chip placed in the left pectoral muscle mass.

TABLE 25-1

Representative ISIS Mean Blood Values for Three Turaco Species

Parameter Units Musophaga rossae n Corythaixoides leucogaster n Tauraco erythrolophus n
WBC x103/mm3 10.7 95 11.9 33 7.2 32
RBC x106/mm3 3.13 39

HGB gm/dL 16.6 30

HCT % 47.8 94 47.6 34 43.4 38
Heterophils x103/mm3 3.74 93 4.47 33 3.45 32
Lymphocytes x103/mm3 5.02 93 5.46 33 2.55 30
Monocytes x103/mm3 0.82 83 0.94 27 0.47 28
Eosinophils x103/mm3 0.25 60 0.44 29
Basophils x103/mm3 0.41 67

0.11 19
Glucose mg/dL 279 91 269 32 278 34
BUN mg/dL 3.0 41

Uric acid mg/dL 14.8 87 9.9 31 7.2 32
Calcium mg/dL 9.4 90 10.2 31 9.1 35
Phosphorus mg/dL 4.5 67

4 25
Na meq/l 154 64

155 19
K meq/l 2.3 58

3.4 18
Cl meq/l 113 51

116 13
Cholesterol mg/dL 158 65

174 23
Triglycerides mg/dL 119 31

Total protein gm/dL 3.5 89 4.1 32 3.7 34
Albumin gm/dL 1.3 63

1.7 30
Globulin gm/dL 2.2 63

1.8 30
AST IU/L 247 90 304 32 208 33
ALT IU/L 37 46

Total bilirubin mg/dL 0.3 41

Alk phosphatase IU/L 85 59

LDH IU/L 729 39

CPK IU/L 289 65

266 25
GGT IU/L 6 15

Aug 27, 2016 | Posted by in EXOTIC, WILD, ZOO | Comments Off on Musophagiformes

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