November 29, 2021
- as seen by -Kaleb King
When it comes to this frugivorous bird species endemic to the Sub-Saharan rainforests and montane forests of Africa, there is more than meets the eye.
Merlin, the Cornell Lab’s bird identification database, states that great blue turacos (Corythaeola cristata) are the largest and only blue variation of the turaco birds. Their attractive blue plumage and striking yellow and red bills provide for some spectacular observation, but in 1996, a group of scientists took note of something even more significant than just beauty.
A very important role birds play in forested ecosystems is seed dispensing. When great blue turacos eat seeded fruits, the feeding can result in the seeds falling from the canopy into the fertile soil. Ingesting these seeds and scattering them with their droppings is one way the great blue turacos help to grow and expand their native forests. The scientists researching great blue turacos in the ‘90s discovered that they had longer gut retention times than the rest of the turaco varieties, allowing them to disperse seeds further from the “parent” tree than any other species they observed. According to the data scientist Chin Sun collected with his colleagues, the great blue turacos help expand the forest greater than any other turaco species.
There is an unseen magic happening in the life of the great blue turacos. These birds contribute to their ecosystem by spreading seeds that grow more forest for wildlife to thrive in. Many species of birds frequently participate in this happy ecological accident of seed dispersal, but the beloved great blue turaco does it in style.
You can see these magnificent birds at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo to learn more and watch them like a scientist would. To marvel at their beauty in person is a privilege. Viewing these great blue turacos myself inspired me to dive deeper into the ecological role they play in their home forests.
What more will you discover when you get a chance to visit?