White-cheeked Turaco - Extra Information


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Pair of White-cheeked

A pair of my White-cheeked (Webmaster) - Photo by Simon Anthony

"The White-cheeked Turaco" by Gail Harland.

(With permission from Cage & Aviary Magazine, where this article originally appeared in March 2006.)

The most commonly encountered member of a fascinating family, the White-cheeked Turaco, Tauraco leucotis, is a bird of great character. With a length of around 40cm (16in) and weighing between 200 and 300g, they are about the size of a wood pigeon but have a very rich and distinctive colouring. The fine hair-like feathering is predominantly steel blue and deep green of an intensity that results from copper containing pigments found only in turacos. When the bird is in flight it displays rich red patches on the primary and secondary flight feathers. There is a characteristic orange bill and orange eye-ring, a small white patch in front of the eye and a longer white blaze down the cheek, that gives the bird its name.

The species Tauraco leucotis was first named by Ruppell in 1835, with the subspecies T. l. donaldsoni being named by Sharpe in 1895. The Donaldson’s subspecies can be distinguished by a pale crimson hind crown to the normal dark crest. This bird was named in honour of Dr Arthur Donaldson-Smith (1866-1939) who was an American doctor from Philadelphia but became an explorer, naturalist and diplomat. He spent much time exploring Lake Rudolf (now Turkama) travelling through Somaliland, Southern Ethiopia and Kenya. He is perhaps best remembered for his book ‘Through Unknown African Countries’, but was a prolific hunter at a time when such activities were more socially acceptable. Sharpe was obviously an admirer as he also named a nightjar (Caprimulgus donaldsoni) after him.

All turacos are natives of Africa with the White-cheeked Turaco being found in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Both subspecies occur in the mountain forests of the Ethiopian Highlands but in different locations, separated by the Rift Valley. Ethiopia has a rich and varied birdlife including such species as the Black-winged Lovebird Agapornis taranta and the Wattled Ibis Bostrychia carunculata. Turacos are fairly common in Southern Ethiopia and seem to be quite tolerant of human activity. They are usually seen as individuals or in small family groups of up to six members. They have stable territories which are defended by calling. The red wing flash when birds are in flight may be used as a way of keeping in touch with family members and of indicating territory boundaries. Recent habitat destruction in Ethiopia has brought the White-cheeked Turaco into contact with the rarer Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco, T. ruspolii. The two species are closely related and there are concerns that hybridisation between the two could endanger the Prince Ruspoli’s species.

In the wild turacos eat a variety of fruits and plant materials including the berries of juniper and podocarpus. They nest in trees, building rough twiggy nests some seven to ten metres above the ground. Two eggs are usually laid, which are incubated for 22 to 23 days. The chicks fledge in 25 to 26 days.

The White-cheeked Turaco does well in captivity. It was first bred in the UK in 1964 and is now a fairly common sight in zoos and bird collections, for example Cotswold Wildlife Park in Oxfordshire, Tropical Wings in Essex and Twycross Zoo in the Midlands. The bird has an engaging personality and is curious and approachable, making it a popular exhibit with the public. Birds need a large well-planted aviary at least 3.6m (12ft) long. They should be given a varied diet of diced fruits and greenfood over which is sprinkled a low iron insectivorous food or softbill food. They do not usually eat live food but, particularly when breeding, may take mealworms. The hen may start to lay very early in the year, even in January. A nesting platform such as an open wicker basket should be provided as well as twigs and grasses for lining materials. Pairs generally need to be kept separate for breeding and occasionally there is even aggression between the male and female but the White-cheeked is the easiest turaco to start with and is often used as a foster parent for the chicks of other species.

White-cheeked Turaco Debre Libanos, Ethiopia White-cheeked Turaco Wadera, Ethiopia

White-cheeked Turaco - Wadera, Ethiopia - My thanks to Nik Borrow for allowing the I.T.S. to use these images. (Webmaster)

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