Toco Toucan Facts - Animals of South America

A toco toucan in Brazil.
A toco toucan in Brazil.

The Toco Toucan is the largest member of the Toucan family birds and also the best known. The bird is located in South America and is famed for its distinct huge colorful bill. According to the IUCN classification, the Toco Toucan’s conservation status is of Least Concern with the bird being easily adopted as a pet by humans.

4. Physical Description

The Toco Toucan is the largest in the Piciformes order with adults growing to a length ranging between 22 inches and 26 inches. The wing chord of the Toco Toucan measures between 8.7 inches and 10.2 inches while the length of the bird’s tarsus ranges between 1.9 inches and 2.6 inches. The plumage observed on adult Toco Toucan birds is predominantly covered in black feathers with few dark blue feathers. However, the plumage on juvenile Toco Toucan birds is rather dull which darkens as they attain maturity. Sexual dimorphism is present in the Toco Toucan with adult males being slightly heavier than adult females and the weight in adult males averaging at 1.594 pounds while the average weight in the adult female is 1.270 pounds. The Toco Toucan’s thick tail measures between 5.6 inches and 7 inches and features are red under tail-covert. The wide tail aids in balancing on trees and also acts as a rudder when flying. The Toco Toucan’s eyes are surrounded by a thin blue skin which has the resemblance of a blue iris. The blue skin around the eyes is itself surrounded by another thin orange skin.

The most distinct feature of the Toco Toucan is its massive bill. The huge bill is the largest in the Toucan family measuring between 6.2 inches and 9.1 inches and is usually yellow-orange in color which gradually turns to reddish-orange on its bottom sections and features a large black spot at the tip. The bill which makes up about a third of the Toco Toucan’s total body length is the largest beak relative to body size in all birds. However, while the bill’s massive size makes it seem heavy, it is quite light as it is made of keratin and has numerous air pockets. The bill in juvenile is stubbier than that of adults.

3. Diet

Due to its arboreal nature, the Toco Toucan is primarily a frugivore feeding mainly on the fruits and seeds found in the tree canopy. The bird’s preferred fruits are found on genipapo trees, ambay pumpwood trees, as well as the agarrapolo tree. However, the Toco Toucan is also a carnivore, feeding on small birds, lizards, small amphibians, bird hatchlings, and insects. The Toco Toucan also feeds on bird eggs and hatchlings including those of the endangered hyacinth macaw. The Toco Toucan’s immense bill is its most important foraging instrument which allows the Toco Toucan to grasp fruits from branches that cannot accommodate the bird’s weight. The colorful bill is also used for reaching into tree crevices and holes to access hidden eggs or small animals. The bird has a unique way feeding where it does not use its tongue when swallowing and instead places the food item at the very tip of its bill and leans its head at a 180-degree inclination, directing the food item to its pharynx.

2. Habitat and Range

The Toco Toucan is an arboreal animal, spending most of its life in the canopies of trees. The Toco Toucan is usually found in semi-open areas with limited tree cover including savannah, woodlands, and plantations and are endemic in the “cerrado” in Brazil. The cerrado is an area with limited tree growth with existing trees being semi-deciduous. The bird is also found in forests which surround water corridors. The Toco Toucan’s main food item is fruits which occur seasonally forcing the bird to migrate from one habitat to the next seeking fruiting trees. The birds are primarily found in low altitude regions but are also found near the Andes at 5,740 feet above sea level in Bolivia. The Toco Toucan occurs in the northern and eastern regions of Bolivia, southern and eastern regions of Brazil, in northern regions of Argentina, and central and eastern regions of Paraguay. The Toco Toucan is also found in small populations in the coastal regions of Guiana. The bird is not found extensively in the Amazon Forest and only occurs along river corridors particularly along the lower Amazon or in open areas in the forest with limited tree cover.

1. Behavior

When flying the Toco Toucan has been observed to alternate between rapid flapping of their wings and gliding. However, the Toco Toucan is a poor flyer and mostly relies on hoping to move from one branch to the next. The Toco Toucan is extremely social and gregarious bird and spends most of its time in flocks of six members or in pairs. When not feeding, the birds spend time grooming each other using their large bills to strengthen their social bonds. The Toco Toucan possesses a complex array of sounds used for communication including deep, coarse frog-like croaks which the bird produces repetitively. Another form of communication observed on the birds is the repetitive clacking of their bills. The Toco Toucan perceives its environment through chemical, auditory, and visual stimuli, a characteristic observed in all birds. Scientists recently established that the Toco Toucan uses its huge bill as a thermal regulator responsible for up to 60% of the bird’s heat loss and the birds have been observed placing the bills under their wings during sleep as a way to minimize heat loss.

Toco Toucans attain sexual maturity between the age of 3 and four years with their annual breeding season normally occurring during spring. During courtship, birds of either gender commence a fruit tossing ritual with potential mates after which the male mates with the female. Toco Toucans have monogamous relationships with their mates. Both mates are involved in nesting where the nest is normally built on high branches. However, the birds have also been observed nesting in termite mounds. After mating, the female lays a clutch of about four eggs which are then incubated in turns by both mates. The eggs hatch after around 18 days with the hatchlings being helpless and entirely reliant on their parents for over six weeks. During this period, the adult Toco Toucans are extremely protective of their hatchlings and will fight off any intruders.


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