Toucans are near passerine birds from the neotropics. They are brightly marked and have enormous, colorful bills. The family includes six genera and about forty different species.
Toucans range in size from the Lettered Aracari (Pteroglossus inscriptus), at 130 g (4.6 oz) and 29 cm (11.5 inches), to the Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco), at 680 g (1.5 lbs) and 63 cm (25 inches). Their bodies are short (of comparable size to a crow’s) and thick. The tail is rounded, and varies in length from half the length to the whole length of the body. The neck is short and thick, and at the base of the head is a huge, brightly-colored beak that measures, in some large species, more than half the length of the body. A toucan’s tongue is long, narrow, and singularly frayed on each side, adding to its sensitivity as an organ of taste.
Toucans, toucanets, and aracaris are reasonably hardy birds. They have a life span of approximately 20 years, and the record is 26. If obtained free of serious disease they should have peace and long life.
The legs of a toucan are strong and rather short. Their toes are arranged in pairs with the first and fourth toes turned backward. Males and females are the same color. The feathers in the genus containing the largest toucans are generally black, with touches of white, yellow, and scarlet. The underparts of the araçaris (smaller toucans) are yellow, crossed by one or more black or red bands, and the edges of the beak are saw-toothed. The toucanets have mostly green plumage with blue markings.
Toucans are frugivorous (fruit-eating), but will take prey such as insects and small lizards. However, the function of the beak in feeding is not known, since many other birds consume these foods without the giant bill to help them. One likely use is to specialize on prey such as nestlings and bats in tree holes. In this view, the beak allows the bird to reach deep into the tree hole to access food unavailable to other birds.
Toucans make excellent pets. They are friendly, cuddly, playful, intelligent and curious about their surroundings. They like to play with toys and with their owners and will give you hours of wonderful companionship. They will sit on your shoulder, cuddle in your lap, and when contented will purr like a kitten.
Toucans have many advantages over parrots as pets. They do not scream or make other obnoxious, loud noises. Since their beaks are not powerful, they cannot bite hard and, in fact, have difficulty squeezing a grape. They also cannot chew furniture or other objects of value. They do not have feather dander, like cockatoos, and will not “dust up” the house.
Toucans are tireless entertainers that can be taught a variety of tricks. The repertoire of tricks a toucan can learn is surprising, surpassing even the parrots. Toucans, toucanets, and occasionally the aracaris may be a bit pugnacious with other species in their family and with smaller birds, and therefore should not be housed with different birds in small enclosures or cages. In an indoor pet cage environment one or two birds of the same species can be kept together. If it is deemed desirable to house several species of birds together, i.e., toucans with other toucans, hornbills, touracos, jays, etc., it should be done in a large aviary.
Toucans are reasonably weather tolerant and are able to adjust to temperatures that drop to freezing at night, or rise to 100 degrees in the day. However, they adjust gradually, and should be placed outdoors in the Spring, Summer, or Fall, where they may gradually adjust to the declining temperatures of Winter.
Summer heat is potentially more dangerous than cold. Whenever the temperature is capable of rising above 90 degrees, there absolutely must be shade available at all times, and if the temperatures can exceed 100 degrees, misters on top of the aviary to cool it will be required.
Toucans, toucanets, and aracaris are frugivorous birds, whose primary diet is fruit. In the wild they consume fruits from as many as 100 species of plants and trees. They also consume a variety of insects for protein, especially during their nesting cycle.
While it is impossible to even approximate their wild diet, they can easily be properly fed. Fruit will make up the bulk of their diet, and is absolutely necessary! Toucans have evolved a specialized digestive system to process fruit, and they get most of their moisture from fruit, not from drinking water. For that reason, toucans must be fed fresh fruit EVERY DAY! Seeds, on the other hand, MUST NOT be fed.
We prefer to feed papaya as the primary fruit, bananas, grapes, and blue berries in a mixture of 70% papaya, 20% bananas, 5% grapes and 5% blueberries. If papaya is unavailable, substitute it with cantaloupe.
Basically, most fruits are good for toucans. We choose fruits that are available all year long, as toucans take some time getting used to new food items. However, fruits high in citric acid such as oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, pineapple, and tomatoes should be avoided as the acid content is thought to impede their digestive system and facilitate the uptake of iron.
The fruit diet must be supplemented with a low iron protein source, and we recommend Mazuri Low Iron Softbill diet by Purina Mills.
Unfortunately, toucans and a number of other bird species (i.e. Mynahs, Starlings, Tanagers. etc.) have a genetic predisposition for the super absorption of iron, known as “iron storage disease” or hemochromatosis. This disease is described as the accumulation of dietary iron in the liver, until the stored iron reaches a toxic level, causing the death of the bird.
It is best to prevent this disease, rather than treat it, by providing a low iron diet. Please note there are several “low iron” diets on the market that were “designed” to solve iron storage disease problem, but may be harmful to toucans if they contain propylene glycol. Avoid these diets at all cost. Propylene glycol is also used as a carrier for some medications such as lvermectin; Ivermectin should be used with caution and in consultation with your veterinarian. Propylene glycol will kill your birds, so be sure to read the list of ingredients!
It is important to note that there is no such thing as an iron free diet. In fact, some iron is needed by all animals for the formation of hemoglobin in the blood.
If the above diet is adhered to, your toucan(s) should live long and prosper. This diet is complete and NO additives such as vitamins or minerals are required or desired. The pelleted portion of this diet contains all the vitamins and minerals needed. The addition of extra vitamins and minerals, rather than helping, can actually lead to gout or other metabolic disease resulting in premature death.
Fresh water should be provided at all times. You will soon note, however, that toucans prefer to bathe in their water rather than drink it, as they get most of their moisture needs from the fruit.
Toucans eat larger quantities of food and process their food much more rapidly than parrots and other birds. Because of this, they MUST HAVE fresh fruit daily and a constant supply of pellets. They cannot survive if this requirement is not met.
Keel billed Toucan
The Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), also known as Sulfur-breasted Toucan, Rainbow-billed Toucan, and simply “the bill bird”, is a colorful South American bird with a large bill. Keel-billed Toucans can be found from Southern Mexico to around Venezuela and Colombia
This social bird lives in small flocks in lowland rainforests, but as it is a poor flyer, the toucan moves mostly by hopping around trees. Toucans roost in holes in trees, and they have a croaking call that sounds like “RRRRK”.
Including their bills, Keel-billed Toucans range in length from around 17 to 22 inches. Their large and colorful bills averages around 5-6 inches, but can be up to one third of its length. While the bill seems large and cumbersome, it is in fact hollow and made of keratin, a very light protein.
The plumage of the Keel-billed Toucan is mainly black with a yellow neck and chest. Molting occurs once per year. They have blue feet and red feathers at the end of their tails. Their bills are mainly green with a red tip and orange sides. The Keel-billed Toucan is the national bird of Belize.
The Emerald Toucanet, Aulacorhynchus prasinus, is a near-passerine bird which breeds from tropical Mexico to northern Venezuela and eastern Peru. The distinctive form of Nicaragua, Costa Rica and western Panama is sometimes split as the Blue-throated Toucanet, Aulacorhynchus caeruleogularis
Like other toucans, the Emerald Toucanet is brightly marked and has a huge bill. The adult is 29 cm long and weighs 180 g. The sexes are alike in appearance, mainly green with a blue patch around the eye. The lower belly and the feather tips of the otherwise dull blue undertail are chestnut, The throat is white (blue in caeruleogularis). The bill has a black lower mandible and base of the upper mandible, the rest being bright yellow. The legs are bright green.
Juvenile Emerald Toucanets are duller, with a greyish throat and the black areas of the bill replaced with dusky.
The calls of the Emerald Toucanet are a loud dry rrip rrip rrip rrip rrip, or a graval graval graval. It has been suggested that the two different calls are given by the two sexes. There are also croaking alarm and aggression calls.
The Emerald Toucanet is a popular pet toucan. Its small size, and quiet nature makes it well suited for apartment living. It’s an affectionate bird when hand fed, loves to play and interact with its owner. They are cuddly birds similar to a cockatoo, and can learn tricks just as fast. These birds are active and need a large cage for their size; they require perches that they can hop back and forth on.
The Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco) is the largest and arguably best known species in the toucan family. It is found in semi-open habitats throughout a large part of central and eastern South America. It occurs in northern and eastern Bolivia, extreme south-eastern Peru, northern Argentina, eastern and central Paraguay, eastern and southern Brazil.
The Toco Toucan has a striking plumage with a mainly black body, a white throat, chest and uppertail-coverts, and red undertail-coverts. The iris is blue and surrounded by a ring of bare, orange skin. The most noticeable feature, however, is its huge bill, which is yellow-orange, tending to deeper reddish-orange on its lower sections and culmen, and with a black base and large spot on the tip. It looks heavy, but as in other toucans it is relatively light because the inside largely is hollow. The tongue is nearly as long as the bill and very flat. With a total length of 55-65 cm (22-26 in), incl. a bill that measure almost 20 cm (8 in), and a weigh of 500-850 g (17.5-30 oz), it is the largest species of toucan.
Males are larger than females, but otherwise the sexes are alike. Juveniles are duller and shorter-billed than adults. Its voice consists of a deep, coarse croaking, often repeated every few seconds. Also has a rattling call and will bill-clack.
The Chestnut-mandibled Toucan or Swainson’s Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii) is a near-passerine bird which breeds from eastern Honduras to northern Columbia.
The Chestnut-mandibled is brightly marked and has a large bill. The male is 56cm long and weighs 750g (26.5 oz). The smaller female is typically 52cm long and weighs 580g (20.5 oz).
The sexes are alike in appearance, mainly black with maroon hints to the head, upper back and lower breast. The face and upper breast are bright yellow, with narrow white and broader red lines forming a lower border. The upper tail is white and the lower abdomen is red. The legs are blue. The body plumage is similar to that of the smaller Keel-billed Toucan, but the bill pattern is quite different, being diagonally divided into bright yellow and maroon.
Juvenile birds are sooty-black, and have duller plumage, particularly with respect to the bib, red border, and lower mandible. They are fed by the parents for several weeks after leaving the nest.
The call of the Chestnut-mandibled Toucan is a yelping yo-YIP, a-yip, a-yip, or a Dios te dé, Dios te dé.
Chestnut-mandibled Toucans are second only to Tocos in their calm nature and easy manner. Their great intelligence lends them to easy training and they may be taught a variety of tricks including playing catch, mid air somersaults, and free flying Chestnut-mandibled can be potty trained to only go in their cage. They love to play with toys and will entertain you for hours with their antics. They are very affectionate and will cuddle in your lap, making a soft purring sound as they are petted.
Chestnut-mandibled are long lived toucans living to 25 years or more, when properly cared for.
Channel Billed Toucan
The Channel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos vitellinus) is a nesr-passerine bird which breeds in Trinidad and in tropical South America as far south as southern Brazil and central Bolivia.
Like other toucans, the Channel-billed is brightly marked and has a huge bill. It is typically 48 cm (19 in) long with a 9-14 cm (3½-5½ in) bill.
This species is an arboreal fruit-eater, but will take insects and other small prey, e.g. insects, small reptiles and eggs and nestlings of other birds. The call is a croaking cree-op cree-op cree-op.
White Throated (Red billed) Toucan
The White-throated Toucan (Ramphastos tucanus) is a near-passerine bird found throughout the Amazon in south-eastern Columbia, eastern Ecuador, eastern Peru, northern Bolivia, southern and eastern Venezuela, northern and western Brazil, and the Guianas.
Like other toucans, the White-throated Toucan is brightly marked and has a huge bill. It has a total length of 55-60 cm (21-24 in) and weighs 600 g (22 oz). The bill is typically 14-18 cm (5½-7 in) long. The only species of toucan that surpass it in size is the Toco Toucan. Juveniles are noticeably shorter-billed, more sooty-black, and have duller plumage.
The White-throated Toucan of the race cuvieri is virtually identical to the related Channel-billed Toucan of the race culminatus, but the latter is smaller and has a proportionally shorter bill with a more strongly keeled culmen. The call is often the best distinction between the species. White-throated has a yelping eeoo, hue hue, whereas Channel-billed has a croaking song.