African Christmas Colours

Post image for African Christmas Colours

by DaleForbes on December 26, 2010 · 5 comments

in Birding Africa

Africa’s is not all zebras and lions, and steamy hot Christmases, but it also has some stunning colours to show off. Richard’s stunning Christmas Quetzal post got my (and probably your) feet itching to go explore far-away jungles. But Africa also has its fair share of Christmassy colours.

The birds that spring to mind first when I think of Christmas colours in Africa, are the turacos. Livingstone’s Turaco Tauraco Livingstonii is a fairly common and typical bird of the coastal forests in the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal, my home province in South Africa – Beautiful green body plumage, with dazzlingly bright scarlet flight feathers when it flies.

Livingstone's Turaco (Tauraco Livingstonii) feeding on figs. Digiscoped (c) Dale Forbes

Livingstone’s Turaco is closely related to both the Knysna Turaco (an endemic of the South African scarp and Afromontane forests), and Schallow’s Turaco (typical of riparian forest in Zambia and neighboring states). Evidently, their beautiful green colouration comes from a rather unique compound, Tauracoverdin, a copper-comtaining porphyrin that is the only true green pigment known from the bird world (a related compound seems to be found in the jacana, roulroul and blood pheasant, though), the bright greens that we see in bee-eaters, trogon, quetzals and others evidently coming from yellow pigments and crystalline structural colouration.

Hartlaub's Turaco by ori2uru (flickr creative commons)

The bright scarlet in the flight feathers (both primary and secondary) of the turacos is evidently also a copper porphyrin pigment (turacin) – once again unique to the turacos – with most other bright red birds using carotenoids.

Violet Turaco (Musophaga violacea) flight feather by Daniele Colombo (flickr creative commons)

The White-cheeked Turaco (Tauraco leucotis) is a bird of the high altitude forest of Ethiopia and neighboring Sudan and Eritrea, mostly found between 2200 and 3200m asl. The photo below shows off some of its lovely rich blues on crest, mantle and wing coverts.

White-cheeked Turaco by Katy Silberger (flickr creative commons)

White-Cheeked Turaco by jpmatth (flickr creative commons)

The Violet Turaco (Musophaga violacea) is in a different genus to the other Tauraco turacos, and looks distinctly different to the “typical” turacos. Nevertheless, with that bright head and iridescent body, it certainly competes for attention. It is found in the forests of tropical West Africa.

Violet Turaco by emenafoto (flickr creative commons)

(top post image – Fischer’s Turaco Tauraco fischerii by mmeida Manuel M. Almeida, Flickr creative commons)

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and may 2011 bring you lots of bright colours!
Happy birding,
Dale Forbes

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