Hartlaub’s turaco (Tauraco hartlaubi)

French: Touraco de Hartlaub
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderCuculiformes
FamilyMusophagidae
GenusTauraco (1)
SizeLength: 43 cm (2)
Male weight: 195 g (2)
Female weight: 275 g (2)

Hartlaub’s turaco is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Hartlaub’s turaco is a spectacularly patterned, medium-sized bird with a strong, curved bill, short, rounded wings and a rather long tail. The vivid plumage of Hartlaub’s turaco, is a product of two unique copper pigments, unknown in any other bird family, or indeed in any other animal group (2) (4) (5). The adult has a bushy, blue-black crest and a conspicuous red eye-ring, with a distinctive white patch immediately in front of the eye and a white line beneath the eye. Much of the upper body, including the neck, mantle, throat and breast is silky green, while the lower back, folded wings, and tail are an iridescent violet-blue (2) (4). Visible only in flight, the flight feathers are a striking crimson. Like all turacos, the feet of Hartlaub’s turaco have a special joint that allows the outer toe to move either forward or backward, an attribute that enables these birds to move dextrously through vegetation (2) (5).

The distribution of Hartlaub’s turaco is centred around the Kenyan Highlands, but extends into eastern Uganda and northern Tanzania (2) (6).

The native habitat of Hartlaub’s turaco is thick, evergreen forest, from 1,500 to 3,200 metres above sea level. However, in parts of central Kenya, including Nairobi, this species is common in well-timbered, suburban conditions (2).

In spite of being poor fliers, the forest turacos (of which there a number of species) seldom descend to the ground. Instead, these shy but gregarious birds utilise their remarkable climbing skills to navigate the tree canopy, skipping nimbly from branch to branch. When unassailable gaps do eventually necessitate flight, they take to the air with a few earnest flaps to the next tree, before clambering back up into the leafy crown (2). Like other turaco species, Hartlaub’s turaco mainly feeds on fruits and berries, some of which are extremely poisonous to humans, but it will also take the occasional small insect, and, in suburban areas, will often partake of exotic fruit (2) (4).

Although turacos generally forage in groups, breeding is a solitary affair, with monogamous pairs fiercely defending their territories. Courtship involves much calling, chasing and general exhibition, with Tauraco species commonly spreading their wings to display the striking crimson patches (2) (4). Hartlaub’s turaco breeds between April and December, with peaks coinciding with periods of high rainfall. The flimsy nest is a shallow platform of loose twigs, positioned three to eight metres above the ground in thick foliage. A clutch size of two is typical, and the downy chicks hatch after an incubation period of 16 to 18 days, dutifully attended to by both sexes (2). Strengthened on a nutritious diet of caterpillars and regurgitated pulp, the precocious chicks do not linger long in the nest, and within two to three weeks are clambering through the branches of the nest tree, a week or two before they learn to fly (2) (4).

Hartlaub’s turaco appears to be relatively common everywhere within its range, and is still abundant in some areas above 2,000 metres. In northern Tanzania, however, trapping for the bird-export trade has led to significant declines (2) (6). Nonetheless, the current level of decline is not thought to be sufficiently rapid to warrant the classification of Hartlaub’s turaco in a threatened category on the IUCN Red List (1) (6).

In addition to its likely presence in several protected areas, Hartlaub’s turaco is listed on Appendix II of CITES, which prohibits international trade in this species without a permit (3) (6).

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  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World - Sandgrouse To Cuckoos. Vol. 4. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (January, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org
  4. Perrins, C. (2010) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  6. BirdLife International (January, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=2132&m=0