One of my dreams was to have a garden where I’d see toucans. Then we moved to Costa Rica and my dreams came true. My garden has been blessed by the colorful keel-billed toucan and the chestnut-mandibled toucan and several species of parrots. Indeed, this place is an avian rainbow, but the bird I’m happiest to see has to be the keel-billed toucan, (Rhamphastos sulfuratus).
Also called the rainbow-billed toucan (for obvious reasons), these birds are as brash and bold as their colorful bills. They almost seem to know they’re all that. With that ginormous bill, you’d think these guys would have a tough time keeping their balance. But they don’t, because despite it’s size (20 cm, or nearly eight-inches) the bill is made of keratin — the same substance as our hair and nails. So it’s extremely light and efficient for the toucan’s needs — munching on edibles and preening one’s feathers.
So what do toucans eat?
Toucans definitely love their fruit. They grab the oranges in my garden and fly off with the entire fruit in their bills. Then with an upward nod of the head, they just gulp the whole thing down. They’re especially fond of figs, fruit from the cecropia tree (which resemble spiky string beans), and bread nuts. They also love berries and despite the size of that bill, it’s quite dexterous and they will make off with bird’s eggs, baby birds, lizards, insects, snakes, and the occasional tree frog should they see such an opportunity.
The more toucans, the merrier
One of my favorite things about toucans is that they are highly social. This means if you see one, there’s almost certainly more. In nesting season, they gather together, and they like to fly in small flocks of six to 15 individuals. With a wingspan of up to 152 cm (60 inches) toucans are reasonably large birds that can be 42-55cm (17-22 inches) long. Both sexes have more or less the same color pattern, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports. The tops of their heads are bright black that becomes tinged with maroon down their backs. Their tail coverts are bright red and the throats and breasts of these beautiful birds are a brilliant yellow. Add to that bright blue legs and feet and you have riotously-colored well-dressed birds.
Toucans are playful
They love to chase each other around and will hop from branch to branch, sometimes playing a rousing game of catch — with one bird tossing an orange in the air and another grabbing it. Sometimes they will practice a little fencing with those impressive bills and spend much of their day hopping around in the branches of whatever tree they are feeding in.
The toucan mating ritual is a rather polite affair with the male offering a female a choice piece of fruit, then bobbing his head and tail and uttering frog-like calls, which you can hear in the video below. The mating season in Costa Rica lasts from March to June. A toucan couple usually stays together throughout the year, building a nest high in the cavity of a tree. They meticulously clean the nest, adding small green leaves every day. This is interesting behavior because it’s thought they do this to provide insect repellent. The female lays a clutch of one to four eggs and both parents take part in raising the youngsters. The hatchlings are ready to fledge in about 45 days.
Amazingly, the keel-billed toucan isn’t the only species of this gorgeous bird in Costa Rica. Indeed, there are six species of toucans here, and all of them are spectacularly colorful.
Here’s a Chestnut-mandibled Toucan (Rhamphastos ambiguus swainsonii)
The collared aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)
The Fiery-billed Aracari (Pteroglossus frantzii)
The yellow-eared Toucanet (Selenidera spectabilis)
The emerald toucanet (Aulachorhynchus prasinus)
Unfortunately, keel-billed toucans (and probably all of the other species) are popular pets in Costa Rica, and wild populations are in decline. Tragically, they are also hunted because some view them as pests and deforestation is taking the inevitable toll. The IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species has listed the keel-billed as a species of Least Concern. Fortunately, the birds have a large range and their population is still quite large, so there’s still plenty of hope for these absolutely amazing birds.
You can watch these beautiful birds enjoying their day in the video below.