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TOURACOU

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V27, Page 102 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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TOURACOU, the name, evidently already in use, under which in 1743 G. Edwards figured a pretty African bird,' and presumably that applied to it in Guinea, whence it had been brought alive. It is the Cuculus persa of Linnaeus, and Turacus (After Schlegel.) White-Crested Touracou (Turacus albicristatus). or Corythaix persa of later authors. Cuvier in 1799 or 1800 Latinized its native name (adopted in the meanwhile by both French and German writers) as above, for which barbarous term J. K. W. Illiger, in 1811, substituted a more classical word. In 1788 Isert described and figured (Beobacht. Gesellsch. naturf. Freunde, 16-zo, pl. I) a bird, also from Guinea, which he called Musophaga violacea. Its affinity to the original Touracou was soon recognized, and both forms have been joined by modern systematists in the family Musophagidae, commonly Englished Plantain-eaters or Touracous. To take first the Plantain-eaters proper, or the genus Musophaga, of which only two species are known. One, about the size of a crow, is comparatively common in museums, and has the horny base of its yellow bill prolonged backwards over the forehead in a kind of shield. The top of the head and the primaries, except their outer edge and tip, are deep crimson; a white streak extends behind the eye; and the rest of the plumage is glossy purple. The second species, M. rossae, which is rare, chiefly differs by wanting the white eye-streak. Then of the Touracous—the species origin-ally described is about the size of a jay, and has the head, crest (which is vertically compressed and tipped with red), neck and breast of grass-green, varied by two white streaks—one, from the gape to the upper part of the crimson orbit, separated by a black patch from the other, which runs beneath and behind the eye. The wing-coverts, lower part of the back, and tail are of steel-purple, the primaries deep crimson, edged and tipped with bluish black. Over a dozen other congeneric species, more or less resembling this, have been described, and all inhabit some district of Africa. One, found in the Cape Colony and Natal, where it is known as the " Lory " (cf. xv. 7, note I), though figured by Daubenton and others, was first differentiated in 1841 by Strickland (Ann. Nat. History, vii. 33) as Turacus albicristatus—its crest having a conspicuous white border, while the steel-purple of T. persa is replaced by a rich and glossy bluish green of no less beauty. In nearly all the species of this genus the nostrils are almost completely hidden by the frontal feathers; but there are two others in which, though closely allied, this is not the case, and some systematists would place them in a separate genus Gallirex; while another species, the giant of the family, has been moved into a third genus as Corythaeola cristata. This differs from any of the foregoing by the absence of the crimson coloration of the primaries, and seems to lead to another group, Schizorrhis, in which the plumage is of a still plainer type, and, moreover, the nostrils here are not only exposed but in the form of a slit, instead of being oval as in all the ' Apparently the first ornithologist to make the bird known was Albin, who figured it in 1738 from the life, yet badly, as " The Crown-bird of Mexico." He had doubtless been misinformed as to its proper country; but Touracous were called " Crown-birds " by the Europeans in West Africa, as witness Bosman's Description of the Coast of Guinea (2nd ed., 1721), p. 251, and W. Smith's Voyage to Guinea (1715), p. 149, though the name was also given to the crowned cranes, Balearica.rest. This genus contains about half-a-dozen species, one of which, S. concolor, is the Grey Touracou of the colonists in Natal, and is of an almost uniform slaty brown. A good deal has been written about these birds, which form the subject of a beautiful monograph —De Toerako's afgebeld en beschreven—by Schlegel and Westerman, brought out at Amsterdam in 186o; while further information is contained in an elaborate essay by Schalow (Journ. f. ornithologie, 1886, pp. I-77). Still, much remains to be made known as to their distribution throughout Africa and their habits. They seem to be all fruit-eaters, and to frequent the highest trees, seldom coming to the ground. Very little can be confidently asserted as to their nidification, but at least one species of Schizorrhis is said to make a rough nest and therein lay three eggs of a pale blue colour. An extraordinary peculiarity attends the crimson coloration which adorns the primaries of so many of the Musophagidae. So long ago as 1818, Jules Verreaux observed (Prot. Zool. Society, 1871, p. 40) that in the case of T. albicristatus this beautiful hue vanishes on exposure to heavy rain and reappears only after some interval of time and when the feathers are dry.' The Musophagidae form a distinct family, of which the Cuculidae are the nearest allies, the two being associated to Corm the Cuculine as compared with the Psittacine division of Cuculiform birds (see BIRD and PARROT). T. C. Eyton pointed out (Ann. Nat. History, 3rd series, vol. ii. p. 458) a feature possessed in common by the latter and the Musophagidae, in the " process attached to the anterior edge of the ischium," which he likened to the so-called " marsupial " bones of Didelphian mammals. J. T. Reinhardt has also noticed (Vidensk. meddels. naturhist. forening, 1871, pp. 326-341) another Cuculine character offered by the os uncinatum affixed to the lower side of the ethmoid in the Plantain-eaters and Touracous; but too much dependence must not be placed on that, since a similar structure is presented by the frigate-bird (q.v.) and the petrels (q.v.). A corresponding process seems also to be found in Trogon (q.v.). The bill of nearly all the species of Musophagidae is curiously serrated or denticulated along the margin and the feet have the outer toe reversible, but usually directed backwards. No member of the family is found outside of the continental portion of the Ethiopian region. (A. N.)
End of Article: TOURACOU
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