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The Turaco's Non-colorfast Plumage

Plain water can’t wash that color away
© Ray Robles View Large

Two hundred years ago, on an African expedition, the French ornithologist Jules Verreaux noticed that turacos - perhaps one like the Lady Ross's Turaco seen here - had a hard time flying when they were wet. So the young explorer grabbed one of the wet, grounded birds by the wing, only to find that it stained his hand. Later, chemists discovered that the pigment was soluble only in alkali solutions. It turns out that when he touched the wet birds, Verreaux must have had soap on his hands.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Turacos’ Non-colorfast Plumage

Written by Rick Wright

    This is BirdNote.
Two hundred years ago, on an African expedition with his uncle, the young French ornithologist Jules Verreaux [zhool vuh-ROH] noticed that turacos [TURR-uh-kohz] had a hard time flying when they were wet. Turacos are silky-plumed, crested birds with exotic green, red, and blue plumage. 
So, the young explorer grabbed one of these wet, grounded birds by the wing, only to find that it stained his hand blood-red.
    [Ross’s Turaco [ML 65651], 00:04 and following]
    He tried it with three more wet turacos: the same result.
This mysterious pigment caught the interest of Verreaux’s contemporaries, who experimented by dyeing paper with the beautiful, rose-red liquid. And European cosmetics makers were enchanted. They hoped to produce a turaco solution that they could sell as blush. Unfortunately for them, their commercial dream died when chemists discovered that the pigment was soluble only in alkali solutions. It turns out that when he touched the wet birds, Verreaux must have had soap on his hands.
As for the widespread notion that the brilliant red of the turaco’s wing feathers is washed out in heavy rain? The authoritative Handbook of the Birds of the World describes it as a “long-perpetuated fallacy.”
And so turacos still fly unmolested, in all their glory, through the woodlands and savanna of sub-Saharan Africa.
    For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Ross’s Turaco [ML 65651] by Jennifer F.M. Horne.
Ambient sound from Xeno-Canto recording of Ross’s Turaco [289532] by James Bradley
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2016 Tune In to Nature.org    May 2016   Narrator: Mary McCann

ID#  touraco-01-2016-05-17    touraco-01


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