THE KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN
By Jenny Thurman
Photo courtesy of Brent A. Thale
(Photo taken at the Houston Zoo)
Name: Keel-billed toucan
Scientific name: Ramphastos Sulfuratus
Range: Central and South America
Habitat: Tropical and Subtropical Rainforests
Status: Threatened, but not endangered, due to the destruction of its home the rainforest
Diet in the wild: Fruits (primarily berries), some insects, bird eggs, and tree frogs
Location in the zoo: Bird Row
The keel-billed toucan averages about 25 inches in length. Its body is covered with black plumage with red and white coverts under and on top of its tail. The toucan has green skin around its eyes and lore (the area between the eyes and the bill). The bird has a yellow face and throat and stands on two blue legs. Broad, heavy wings and a short tail force the bird to have a very laborious flight, flapping its wings hard in upward and downward movements.
The most obvious characteristic of the toucan is its beak. A large rainbow colored structure, the beak appears quite heavy and cumbersome, but is actually light because it is composed of the protein keratin. The beak is hollow with thin rods of bone to support it. It houses a feather like tongue which catches the animal's food and flicks it down its throat.
The keel-billed toucan is the national bird of Belize. A small, playful bird, the toucan can often be found throwing berries at another bird or jousting with its beak with another toucan. These social practices fit in with the bird's very family-oriented nature. The toucan travels in flocks of six or more and lives holes in trees with several other toucans. Because the holes are relatively small, the toucans must tuck their tails and beaks under them to conserve room when sleeping.
The toucans form strong bonds when paired off. The mother and father take turns sitting on their 2 to 4 glossy white eggs. The eggs hatch in 16 to 20 days and spend the first 8 to 9 weeks in the nest as their beaks fully form.
The toucan was a larger animal than I anticipated. I like many others have always equated a toucan with the logo on the Fruit Loops Cereal box. I was surprised, however, to learn there are actually several types of toucans that are distinguished primarily by their beak size and body coloring. Unfortunately I have no pictures for my site because during the time it was created, the Fort Worth Zoo's toucan was feeling under the weather.
Sources and Links:
Greer, Gilbert. Birds of Ambergri's Caye: 1996. www.ambergriscaye.com/bird/toucan.html
Keel-billed Toucan at Enchanted Learning
Keel-billed Toucan at Rio Dulce National Park
Garcia, Derek. A Science Report on the Toucan: 1998.
(This source site is not currently on line.)
Belize Zoo. Keel-Billed Toucan: 1998.
Video clip from the Belize Zoo, showing the use of the beak
Keel-billed Toucan: Preservation Puzzles
Photo courtesy of the Brent A. Thale