Sunday, 8 July 2012
Turacos 3: Red-Crested Turaco
As with other turacos, they have not been much studied in the wild (their habitat being a war zone did not help either), and the exact details of their diet are unknown, beyond a pretty general ‘wild fruits and foliage with some insects’ description. Studies of behaviour and diet in the wild are an essential part of learning proper husbandry of captive birds, as in order to breed successfully it is necessary to understand the composition of the food the birds naturally eat. Such studies need to be widespread and long term, to avoid the risk of focussing too much on individual preferences or habits, and dietary changes varying through the seasons. Without such knowledge, any keeper is pretty much working on guesswork for best practise.
Despite these drawbacks, the Red-Crested Turaco is one of the more widely bred and kept of the turacos. As with many of its relatives, it is surprisingly hardy and long-lived, requiring only frost-free accommodation in winter and living for well over 20 years. Oddly, for a long-lived bird, it also is capable of breeding from a very early age, and has successfully produced viable young at under 1 year old. As with its relatives, it builds a flimsy nest of sticks and lays 1 or 2 eggs in a clutch. Young can leave the nest well before they can fly. One problem that can occur with chicks, especially hand-reared ones, is that they develop bone diseases which can manifest as splayed legs. This results from a diet too low in calcium, combined with a lack of firm footing in the nest – lining a nest with a piece of Astroturf has been found an effective remedy. Each adult bird needs around 200g of mixed fruit and leafy vegetables per day for proper health.
Turacos are usually peaceful with other species, except sometimes pheasants, so they are often kept in mixed aviaries. How the presence of other species affects breeding success is not clear at present – it probably depends on what the other species are. Unfortunately, turacos are not nearly so peaceful with each other, especially in smaller aviaries where they cannot get out of view of each other. They are quite territorial, and a mated pair will usually drive off other turacos, even their own young, which need to be removed once they are self-supporting. Introducing a new pair can be risky, and if not done carefully can result in injuries or even deaths.
Being fairly well established in aviculture, Red-Crested make a good model species for more threatened forms, such as the Endangered Bannerman’s I mentioned earlier. Part of the work on Red-Crested is the establishment of a stud book, managed by Cotswold Wildlife Park, for the species. A stud book is how a captive population is managed centrally, as it enables control of the breeding and bloodlines of the population to ensure that the genetic diversity of the captive population is maintained. The standard goal is to maintain 95% of the diversity of the founder population for 100 years, if at all possible. Any holders, either public collections or private individuals, interested in taking part should contact:
Cotswold Wildlife Park,
Oxon., OX18 4JP.
Tel: 01993 823908
For more information on the Red-Crested Turaco, the Turaco Society has a detailed husbandry manual, with useful veterinary information at http://www.turacos.org/Texts/RCTouraco%20Guideline.pdf
Nest week, one of the most spectacular of all turacos, the Violet Turaco
(image from wikipedia)