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Turacos, Plantain-Eaters and Go-Away Birds


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Written by Robert Petrie  (Kansas City, MO.)
Originally published in The NFSS Bulletin, Vol. 13 No. 2. March – April 1996

All those names refer to a group of birds called Turacos, a truly unique group of 20 different species of softbills that are growing in popularity among aviculturists. Some Turacos are often called plantain-eaters and others called Go-away birds. A plantain is a relative of the banana that grows wild in Africa. Turacos eat more than just plantains, yet some species still get it attached to their name. All are frugivorous birds from Africa.

Midwesterners pronounce the name “Tore-Rock-O’s”. Texans, more specifically Bird Keepers from Texan Zoos, say “Tuh-uh-cos”. Turaco’s red coloured feathers are made of a water-soluble pigment. This pigment supposedly can be washed out, for example in a rain shower. I have gathered red feathers from two different Turaco species and have attempted to wash the red out. It never washed out.

These are large birds, about the size of Cockatoos, and are highly active. Turacos tails are long and square at the end. Most species have crests on their heads, that vary from small colourful mohawks to long lacy-looking ornaments.

A truly unique feature among the Turacos is the outer toe of each foot. Birds toe arrangement is either 2 in front, 2 in back or 3 in front, 1 in back. Turacos outer toe has the ability to swivel front and back. The result is an amazing ability to run along branches. Turacos are not powerful flyers. They tend to jump and flap a couple of times. Once in the trees, Turacos move with the agility of small monkeys. Catching a Turaco from out of a tree is quite a feat.

Turacos can be divided into four groups, the Great Blue, the purple, the green, and the gray. The Great Blue Turaco is in a group by itself. I’m not aware of any in captivity. In the wild it resides in the rainforests.

The “purple group” contains four species of predominantly purple colouration. The Violet and Lady Ross’s Turacos (or plantain-eaters) are the two species from the purple group found in captivity. The purple Turacos inhabit the rainforest and woodlands of Africa.

There are 20 different species of Turacos in the “green group”. The prevalent colouration is green, but that varies from lime green to shiny, dark emerald green. The green Turacos are found from the rainforest to the open forest of Africa. The crest on the head reaches its greatest variety in this group.

“Gray Turacos” are savannah, thorn scrub and open woodland species. Three of the species are called Go-Away birds because their alarm calls sounds similar to someone saying “Go Away Go Away”. The five species of gray Turacos are the least colourful, being various mixes of blacks, grays, and whites.

The diet of the Turacos that I worked with was a variety of chopped fruit mixed with softbill pellets and sprinkled with vitamins and calcium. The birds were in great health and reproduced readily on this diet. Live food and meat mix were offered to the birds but they never ate any. Green leafy foods were offered as treats and were eagerly accepted.

The nests were simple structures of short twigs placed on a platform of some sort. Two eggs were the normal clutch. Turacos make wonderful parents. The gray Turacos tend to be slightly more delicate than the others.

Untamed Turacos tire and stress easily. When catching these birds, they quickly begin to pant and show signs of stress. Because of this and their highly active nature, Turacos are not suitable for cages. They require lots of space to move around.

Turacos are best kept as individual pairs. Even males of different species will fight and so cannot be housed together. Turacos can be kept with other species of birds, though. We had them housed with tiny finches to large hornbills and never encountered a problem.

Anyone with the space, and the time to chop fruit, will definitely find them a delight. The Houston Zoo in Texas is the place to see Turacos. They house and have bred more species than any other US zoo.


Brown, Leslie. 1988. Birds of Africa Vol. 3. Academic Press. New York. P26-57
Laird, Dale. 1994. The Persa Turaco, NFSS Bulletin, Vol 11, No. 6, p18.

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Last updated: February 12, 2006