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Say hello (again!) to violaceous turacos!

The birds of Zoo Atlanta have some new neighbors! We recently welcomed a new but familiar species to the Bird Department. This species is known as the violaceous turaco. One male and one female have joined our population and currently reside across from our Indian peafowl habitat. I wanted to take just a minute to introduce you to this species and what makes them so unique.

Turacos, as a group, typically have striking features that really grab your eye. It’s important to note that there are many different species of turacos throughout the world, each with their own unique appearances. I have found that guests often mistake these birds for parrots. In my opinion, it must be because of their typically bright colors and the overall shape of their heads and beaks. To be honest, from a distance I can see how it’s easy to make that mistake. Upon further inspection, you will find the differences to be greater.

The first thing that people usually notice is their colors. Again, different turaco species will have different colors. Our violaceous turacos get their name from the dark violet feathers that cover the majority of their bodies. The feathers have an iridescent quality, very similar to the superb starlings you find in other bird habitats at Zoo Atlanta. These turacos also have a red crest, a yellow patch of skin over their eyes, a white stripe behind the eyes, and a bright orange beak. Colors alone make these birds stand out in a crowd.

What I notice most about turacos are not their colors but their intriguing foot structure. Violaceous turacos have four toes, but the fourth one actually turns somewhat backwards. This allows the birds to have a strong grip on the branches they run across. That is right, you heard me correctly. Birds, especially turacos, sometimes prefer other forms of locomotion in certain situations. These turacos spend a lot of their time in the jungles of West Africa. Instead of expending a lot energy flapping their wings for short, abrupt distances, they will “run” along and between branches. Their agility is also aided by some considerably sharp nails at the ends of their toes. For this reason, keepers have to be especially careful when handling these birds (the few times it is necessary).

Did you know that this is not the first time we have housed violaceous turacos at Zoo Atlanta? In fact, the last time we had the privilege of caring for them was when I first arrived here, approximately eight years ago. Why did they leave, you might ask? There are a number of reasons zoos might change out the animals under their care. Sometimes it’s for breeding purposes, often recommended by committees known as Species Survival Plans® (SSPs). It might also be that another zoo decided they would really like to work with a species and has a habitat well suited for them. There is a lot of collaboration amongst zoological institutions to make the best possible decision for the health and well-being of the animals. Regardless of the reasons, I am very happy to see them bouncing around with us again!

These are only a few of the features that set turacos and, more specifically, violaceous turacos apart from the crowd. The Bird Team is extremely happy to have them as part of our population once again. Please stop by as soon as you can to check out our new arrivals and learn a little bit more about them.

Kyle L.
Keeper III, Birds

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