Some Observations of Captive Musoyliagidae


The family Musophagidae consists of some 23 currently recognized species, known collectively as touracos. The classification

of touracos has a long history of controversy, and the number of species recognized at any given time has varied accordingly. There are still a few subspecies whose taxonomic status is somewhat uncertain. The family consists of both forest and wooded savanna dwellers, all of which are restricted to the African continent. Almost all species of the family have been represented in aviculture at one point or another; perhaps the Bannerman's Touraco (Tauraco bannermam), Ruwenzori Touraco (Musophaga johnstom) and Rusopoli's Touraco (Tauraco ruspo!it) are the only species not currently being kept in captivity outside of Africa.

Touracos are perennial favorites among softbill enthusiasts, both in the private and zoological sectors. Their fantastic personalities, vocalizations, and relative ease of reproduction have all contributed to their captive popularity. Hand reared birds are very friendly, curious and very much enjoy attention; the only downfall of having one as a pet is their continuous passing of fruit!

Bird (Corythaixoides /eucogaster). Species not listed should be monitored and their breeding encouraged due to imports becoming increasingly difficult to obtain, with CITES species needing to be brought into the U.S. through a breeding consortium controlled by the USFWS.

The Touracos have only been commonly bred within the last couple of decades. Unique behaviors and diet-related issues are still being discovered, some of which will be discussed here.

'Dietary Observations

All touracos are basically frugivores, with some species requiring a higher intake of plant material than others. This has been found to be the case in the Great Blue Touraco (Corythaeo/a cristata) (Rutgers, 1972) and this could be one reason for the lack of breeding success that has been exhibited by this species in the captive situation. Observations of the Lady Ross's Touraco eating leaf material have been made on numerous occasions by the author. Preference 

seemed to be of young leaves of the Populus family; however, leaves of the Al nus and Sambucus species were also eaten, but to a lesser extent. The Violacious Touraco has also been seen eating some leaf material, but not to the same degree as the Lady Ross's. The species in the genus Tauraco, such as the Red-crested and Gold Coast, were not observed eating any leaf material. My personal theory to this is that the larger species of touraco have had to resort 

to non-fruit items during dry periods when fruit is not as readily available, whereas the smaller species are capable of surviving on fewer amounts of fruit due to their smaller size. Perhaps due to this dependency on non-fruit items, the reason for the failure to establish the Great Blue Touraco in captivity is a diet too rich in fructose, or the lack of fibrous material causing gastric failure. This has been the suspicion of some European breeders (Pers. com. Kim Willems). Also, this apparent 'disadvantage' could perhaps be the reason why there is only one 1 species of very large touraco.

Due to the preference of leafy material displayed by the Lady Ross's, chopped head lettuce and romaine are offered when it is available (mainly during the winter months when access to leaves is not an option). I have now attempted to introduce flowering buds from fruit trees such as apple, plum and cherry to see if there is an interest in these.


On the International Touraco Society website (www. there is an article by Owen Joiner on the breeding of the Great Blue Touraco, in which he makes reference to the failure of two chicks that were artificially incubated. He comments on one of two chicks that hatched, "The first hatched chick made

it to day nine and then succumbed suddenly to an intense gastric infection." This observation has been made with other species of frugiverous birds and even some species of Tinamiformes. Inoculation with fecal flora of adult birds could be a solution to this problem (Chris Sheppard, in print). Wild Great Blue 

Touracos have been seen feeding their chicks regurgitated leaf matter from eight days onward, but were not seen feeding any insect matter (Candy, 1984).

Although considered frugivores, like toucans, touracos are known to consume some animal material both on their own and when it is offered to them.

One Red-crested male would take mealworms from the hand with great pleasure, even when no babies were present. Mealworms have also been part of

the diet of other touraco breeders, some of which were readily consumed outside the breeding season as well (Steel, 1973). This same Red-crested male also offered me a regurgitated slug on one occasion, showing that mollusks may be part of their natural diet, or used as a protein source for growing chicks. There were two offspring present at the time this male was seen eating the slug. Observations of White-cheeked Touracos catching and consuming tadpoles have been made at Grangewood Zoo, while at liberty (Parkins, 2004).

Other protein sources that touracos have eaten include wax worms, ant eggs, earth worms, ter-

mites, caterpillars, dried shrimp, geckos, young

chicks of other birds, and pinky mice. Interestingly enough, mosquito larvae at the bottom of an almost empty water dish were also seen to be consumed (Humphreys, 2004). It is my assumption that touracos prefer these types of insects and animals due to their moist exterior and the ease of which they can be swallowed.

Behavioral. Observations

Touracos can be both parent and hand reared, although there is a large difference between the two. Although parent reared can become fairly comfortable and even eat from their keeper's hand, for the most part they are quite skittish, and take much longer

to regain trust of their keeper once they have been caught or handled. Hand reared birds are unmistakable; both sexes will open their wings to show their bright red primaries and emit an "Oooohhhh" sound

to 'greet' their keeper. It is usually males that do

this, and is normally a sign of territorialism rather

than a 'greeting,' as they will do this when they are approached by other touracos, especially during the breeding season.








Candy, Mhorag. 1984. Habits and breeding biology of the great blue turaco Corythaeola cristata . J. East Afri. Nat. Hist. Soc. 180: 1-19

Humphreys, Clive. 2004. International Turaco Society, Issue 22, p.31.

Parkins, Audrey. 2004. International Turaco Society, Issue 22, p.25.

Rutgers, A & K.A Norris [eds.]. 1972. Encyclopedia of Aviculture, vol 2. Blandford Press, Poole, Dorset

Sheppard, Chris. Encyclopedia of Aviculture, in print. Hancock House Publishers.

Thanks to David Bender for reviewing the article prior to submission. •