Toucans are well known for their large colorful bills, and look very soft. The species that you’re probably thinking of is the Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco), who lives in South American tropical rainforests. They are currently at Least Concern as far as being endangered, which is certainly a good sign given as their homes are still being targeted by deforestation.
Unlike many birds, it isn’t only the males who possess the flashy bill (although for many species it would be the feathers). The females have the same bill, too. You may know that a bird’s bill or beak is part of their skull, and with the toucan, he is no exception. You might think that it is heavy or arduous, but the bill is actually very light in comparison to its size. It is made of a network of bone, almost in a honeycomb pattern, which contains a lot of air. This makes it easy for the toucan to hold his head upright, but it also means that the bill isn’t useful for deterring predators. It is useful, though, for reaching to fruit on branches too light to walk out on or land on or far away. Toucans are also able to peel the skin off of fruit with their bills. Toucans primarily eat fruit, but they have been known to eat small lizards, fish, and even other birds’ eggs.
Toucans typically form flocks of around six members. They can be found in the canopy, where they are hidden from the view of those below. The toucans nest in holes in the trees, and each year, there are between two and four eggs per nest. Another reason which makes toucans unique in the bird world is that both the mother and father raise the young toucans. It is thought that toucans are monogamous. The chicks are born with their eyes closed and without feathers. They are completely dependent on their parents for up to two months. During that time, their eyes open at three weeks and their feathers start to grow in. Their bill also needs to grow to the impressive size of their parents’.
Toucans are zygodactylous. What does that long word mean, you might ask. It means that they have two toes facing towards the front and two facing towards the back. Their two forward toes can be seen in the photo above featuring the baby toucans. This trait is shared among other rainforest birds, such as macaws, and woodpeckers. This feature gives them stability and strength to hang onto the high canopy branches.
While the Toco toucans are at Least Concern, that doesn’t mean they aren’t threatened. Their populations are decreasing. Much of their habitat is being destroyed for lumber. Across the world their are sought as exotic pets, or killed by trophy hunters. Natives to the area still regard them highly, though, and treat them as conduits through which to speak to the spirit world.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post and found it interesting. A new post is published every Tuesday and Friday, so be sure to check out any of our previous posts or come back for the next one. Until then, goodbye!