Good-bye Lourie, hallo Turaco
Knysna Turaco – Tauraco corythaix (Afrikaans: Knysna-loerie)
Purple-crested Turaco – Gallirex porphyreolophus (Afrikaans: Bloukuif-loerie)
South Africa was until recently home to a number of louries, of which the forest-dwelling Knysna and Purple-crested Louries would easily be rated as being amongst our most beautiful birds.
The birds are fortunately still there, but have, with the publication of Roberts – Birds of Southern Africa VII in 2006, been renamed turacos to indicate their kinship with other birds of this African family. So, in line with international naming conventions, we do not have louries anymore! (In drier northern regions, especially in acacia thornveld, the Grey Lourie is now the Grey Go-away-bird – Afrikaans: Kwêvoël).
The Knysna Turaco is endemic to South Africa and occurs in natural forests along the coast from Mossel Bay to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, with a sub-species, Tauraco corythaix phoebus, occuring from northern KZN through Swaziland to eastern Mpumalanga and northeastern Limpopo Province.
The Purple-crested Turaco is found as far north as Kenya, and in South Africa in the northeastern areas and southwards as far as the KZN Midlands, thereby overlapping with its Knysna cousin in the latter’s northern reaches.
The Knysna and Purple-crested Turacos are fairly large birds – about 45 cm long – with beautiful green and purple plumage, and striking red wings in flight. The Knysna Turaco has a green crest with a white upper ridge, while the Purple-crested has a glossy, deep-purple crown and crest. Turacos are fruit- and berry-eaters, and will also visit domestic fruit trees such as guavas. Their calls are a loud woop-woop-woop-korr-korr and kok-kok-kok. Both species built big dove-like nests in the thick branches of trees or in creepers, with material collected from the canopy. They normally lay two eggs, which are white, smooth and round as ping-pong balls.
About twenty years ago a friend of ours at Nature’s Valley phoned and said that the Nature Conservation people were building a big cage in the forest where they were going to breed louries to be released into the wild. The first ten nests were made and eggs laid, but not a single one hatched. Then a man who had worked for a breeder in Bellville came to work there, and said they had had the same problem with captive louries. Guavas were plentiful at the time so they included these in the food bins, and the problem was solved: the next batch of eggs were all fertile!
Fortunately the Knysna and Purple-crested Turacos are not threatened, but a good reason to protect them is the fact that they are the most effective seed spreaders in our evergreen forests.
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