Sunday, 1 July 2012

Turacos Part 2: Fischer's Turaco

Living in coastal forest from northern Tanzania to southern Somalia is one of the most spectacularly coloured birds in Africa, Fischer’s Turaco Tauraco fisheri. Unfortunately, as a result of habitat loss from deforestation, capture for the pet trade, and some hunting, it is one of the world’s more threatened birds, with an estimated population of under 10,000 and possibly as few as 3,000. As a result, the IUCN Red List puts it in the Near Threatened category. The population in Somalia, where perhaps under 50 birds remain as a result of forest clearance, is particularly threatened and likely to die out in the near future.

Fischer’s Turaco is particularly interesting as it the only species to occur on an island. There is a distinct subspecies, T. fischeri zanzibaricus, occurring on the island of Zanzibar. The most recent survey put that population at around 1400 birds, a great improvement on the 25-50 that were believed to exist before the survey. Nonetheless, deforestation and separation of the birds into inbred sub-populations is a serious threat.

As with many turacos, Fischer’s is surprisingly cold tolerant for a tropical bird, and ranges from sea level to 1500m in the Usambara Mountains. The key requirement is not so much high temperatures as rainfall capable of supporting primary rainforest with a complex canopy they can run through in search of their food, mainly fruits of the Pachystela tree. They will also eat fruit buds, foliage, and insects as with other turacos. With this sort of diet they must be in competition with primates, but I am unaware of any studies of interactions with competitors.

Fischer’s Turacos are average-sized for the group, with a head to tail length of 40cm and a weight of around 250g. Two eggs are laid in a rather simple, pigeon-like nest of sticks in the canopy. In captivity nest baskets are usually supplied to make a more secure nest site. One problem with captive breeding is that they can be quite aggressive to each other, especially if the hen is not quite in breeding condition. This is a general tendency among all turaco species, and needs to be taken into account when breeding is attempted.

Bristol has not kept turacos in their collection for long, but we have had promising signs with our Fischers, and we hope to have successful nesting in the next year or so. One good point with turacos is that they are extremely long lived, and some species have been recorded as living to over 30.

For more information on Turacos:

International Turaco Society website

IUCN Fischers’ Turaco entry:

Ecological study of Fischer’s Turaco on Zanzibar:

(image from wikipedia)

Next week: Red-crested Turaco

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