Animals

Toucans

by Marcia Malory

Toucans are members of the family Ramphastidae.

They belong to the order Piciformes.

Toucans are known for their bright plumage and their large, brightly colored bills (beaks).

They live high up in trees in tropical forests in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Toucans range in size from about seven inches to a little more than two feet long.

Toco toucan, photo by Jon HansonThe largest toucan in the world is the toco toucan (Ramphastos toco).

Toucans have short wings and strong, short legs.

Male and female toucans of the same species usually have similarly-colored feathers.

Like all Piciformes, toucans have zygodactylous feet - each foot has two toes that point forward and two toes that point backward.

The three rear vertebrae on a toucan's tail are fused together and connected to the spine with a ball and socket joint. This arrangement allows the toucan to touch its tail to its head.

When a toucan sleeps, it lays its bill along its back and then covers its bill with its tail.

Toucans usually eat fruit but they will also eat small animals such as insects, small birds and small lizards, as well as eggs.

A toucan will grab a piece of fruit in the tip of its bill, then toss its head upward and throw the fruit into the back of its fruit.

The toucan's bill has saw-like edges that the toucan can use to tear apart large fruits.

Toucans have long, thin tongues that are frayed on the sides.

While toucans can fly, they will usually fly only for short distances - from tree to tree.

Toucans live in small flocks.

Some people keep toucans as pets.

Nest

Toucans nest in tree cavities.

Unlike woodpeckers, which are also Piciformes, toucans do not have bills that are very good for drilling holes.

Therefore, they lay their eggs in holes that already exist in trees. They may nest in abandoned woodpecker nests.

Toucans do not line their nests holes.

A female toucan usually will lay from two to four eggs every year.

Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the young.

Bill

Toucans use their large bills for heat regulation.

A toucan loses heat through its bill.

By adjusting the blood flow to its bill, the toucan can control how much heat it loses and therefore regulate its body temperature. This ability is useful for surviving in a hot, tropical environment.

A toucan can use its bill to reach for food on long, thin twigs that are too strong to support the bird's weight.

However, a large, flat bill is not necessary for this. The toucan could reach for its food with a long, thin beak as well.

While a toucan's beak may appear formidable, it is, in fact, light and full of spongy tissue. It would not be very useful for defense against predators.

Darwin thought that toucans used their bills to attract mates.

It is possible that toucans recognize members of of the same species by examining their bills.