Interested to learn about this unusual African blue bird? Here are 8 great blue turaco facts to satisfy your curiosity, including diet, range, flight skills, calls, mating rituals, and more.
Learn more about the other birds of Uganda.
8 Great Blue Turaco Facts
Whether you are a seasoned world-traveler or are just visiting Uganda for the first time, one thing that never gets old is seeing and experiencing the local wildlife.
With 60 conservation areas, several of which are National Parks, Uganda is home to a vast variety of native species large and small. It is home to mountain gorillas, elephants, hippos and several species of monkeys, just to name a few!
Uganda is a particularly popular destination for bird enthusiasts, however, with over 1,000 different species calling the East African nation their home. Uganda’s unique topography that ranges from snow-capped peaks to the majestic Lake Victoria offers species a wide variety of habitats to call home.
If you are looking for diversity and a gorgeous backdrop for sightseeing, this is a dream destination!
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Among the hundreds of species of birds that call Uganda home, one of the most unique and sought-after is the Great Blue Turaco. The brilliantly colored, fruit-loving species is a favorite among the birding community and is touted by African Geographic as one of Uganda’s top 10 birds!
But with a thousand other species of birds to see in Uganda, what’s so special about the Great Blue Turaco? Here are some of the key facts that make this big blue bird a must-see.
1. Blue Me Away
Turacos are a fairly common African bird and are part of the Musophagidae family. They range across equatorial Africa, and can be found in a variety of sizes and colors. Most of them are medium size, ranging from about 16-30 inches. Their colors vary from blue, green to purple.
They typically have brilliantly colored red flight feathers or bright red markings around the eyes and the crest of the head. Their feathers have traditionally been used as a status symbol for native African tribe leaders.
The Great Blue Turaco is blue! Adults have turquoise-blue bodies which include their wings and tails. Their tails are long and dramatic, while their bellies are usually a yellow-green that carries down under their tail feathers.
Unlike other species of Turacos, they do not have red flight feathers in their wings. They have a large bill that is bright yellow with a red tip and a blue-black raised crest crowning the top of their heads. Many species of bird have males that are more brightly colored than females, but female turacos are typically as brilliantly colored as their male counterparts. And why shouldn’t they be, after all?
This brilliant coloring has made their feathers, like those of their cousins, a prized item in the making of talismans by local natives. They are thought to bring good luck. Certainly not so much for the bird…
2. Flying Isn’t Everything
For a bird as visually stunning as the Great Blue Turaco, it seems like it should be seen gracefully soaring through the air, its movements as beautiful as its plumage.
Turacos in general, however, may have the looks, but they don’t have the moves. Physically, they have short, round wings that make “flying” a little more like “gliding” when they make a leap from one tree to another. Landing is not the most graceful, since the short flights usually end in the bottom branches of the tree they are aiming for.
Turacos have adapted to this setback with unique feet that give them the ability to climb to reach the fruit trees they live in. They can move quickly and deftly through the trees, using a fourth toe that can rotate around the foot all the way to the front, giving them a better ability to grip branches while climbing at odd angles.
Once they get back to the top of the tree, they take another leap and move on to the next one. You may not get to see much majesty of this bird in flight, but watching them move so well through the branches with nothing but their feet is still a sight to behold!
3. Great Blue Turacos are Musophagiformes (Plantain eaters)
Musophagiformes, or plantain-eaters, are the family all turacos belong to. These birds, including their biggest, bluest member, have a diet comprised mostly of fruits found in the native trees.
They feed some on shoots, buds, and leaves and will indulge in the occasional insect if the mood strikes them.
Interestingly, even though turacos are known as plantain-eaters, Great Blue Turacos also eat parasol and waterberry fruits commonly found growing in the trees in their natural Sub-Saharan habitats.
4. Call Me? Maybe.
The call of the Great Blue Turaco is very unique. There are typically two different types that they use. They are most commonly heard at dawn and dusk and during mating season. Their primary call is a harsh and deep tone that almost sounds like they are repeating the word “cow” over and over. This can be preceded by a softer sound that can be described as almost a purring.
5. Courtship Displays of the Great Blue Turaco
Like many other birds (and every other species, it seems!), Turacos become more vocal and more territorial during mating season. Six to twenty birds may live in a family group, their territory comprised of several fruiting trees. Some may form small territorial groups of a single mating pair, however. Either way, when it’s time for the mating season to begin and the courtship displays begin, Turacos are not shy about making themselves known!
If you’ve ever watched a nature show that includes clips of birds doing courtship displays, they are very entertaining. Most of them become temporary interpretive dancers, moving to music only they can hear. Feathers appear out of seemingly nowhere, they hop around and flap and preen and make crazy noises, and you can’t help but wonder what the foxy ladies of their species could possibly find attractive about those goofballs.
Well not to worry! Great Blue Turacos are equally as entertaining to observe during courtship. At the beginning of the rainy season, which begins around October, male Turacos try to entice their prospective mates by calling loudly and raising and lowering the large crest on their heads.
They bow and bob their heads, showing off their brilliant coloring, and fan their long tails to show off the blue, yellow and black feathers. They engage in mutual feedings, and males in competition with one another will try and dominate their territory. They chase each other nimbly through the trees in the midst of their courtship rituals, all hoping to win the attention of their lady loves.
6. Nest Building and Raising Young
When they finally do find Ms. Right, they build a nest together that looks like a platform made of dry sticks, usually high in a leafy tree and over water, if possible.
Females will typically lay 2 eggs (blue, naturally!) and parents take turns incubating them for about a month. They also co-parent once the chicks arrive, and one or the other stays with them 24 hours a day, and about 2 months later the hatchlings start making their way out of the nest and practicing their short flights.
7. Oh, the Humanity!
Great Blue Turacos have a somewhat complicated relationship with humans. Turacos, in general, are shy, and typically do not come down to ground level except to drink or bathe. However, even in the wild, they can become so tame with prolonged exposure to humans that they can actually be fed by hand. They are a species that is found in Zoos around the world, because they are a “show” bird, due to their brilliantly colored plumage and ability to become docile around humans.
Great Blue Turacos, unlike their smaller cousins, are hunted for their meat as well as their feathers. This is more commonly found in the Congo region than in Uganda, but throughout history, Blue Turacos have been hunted and sold or consumed. Some are caught in live traps so they can be sold or traded, as well. Their feathers are seen as a status symbol for locals and are used to create talismans that are believed to bring good luck.
8. Effects of Habitat Reduction and Hunting Great Blue Turaco
The Great Blue Turaco does not have many natural enemies aside from humans. Although many zoos take great care of them, and they can have a positive relationship with humans, man’s activity in their natural habitat – if left unchecked, can start to have a devastating effect on their population. Deforestation threatens thousands of species worldwide, and a tree-dwelling flightless bird like the turaco and its cousins would be particularly vulnerable. Their habitats have already started to decline in Nigeria and the damage continues to spread.
Although they are not hunted in every country for their meat, they are sought after by trappers looking to sell them in the trade market. Left unchecked, these factors could begin to adversely affect their numbers across the continent. Currently, they are considered “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).