|Toucans are near passerine birds from the neotropics. They are brightly marked and have large, colorful bills. The family includes five genera and about forty different species.
Toucans range in size from the Lettered Aracari (Pteroglossus inscriptus), at 130 g (4.6 oz) and 29 cm (11.5 inches), to the Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco), at 680 g (1.5 lb) and 63 cm (25 inches). Their bodies are short (of comparable size to a crow's) and thick. The tail is rounded, and varies in length from half the length to the whole length of the body. The neck is short and thick, and at the base of the head is a huge, brightly-colored beak that measures, in some large species, more than half the length of the body. A toucan's tongue is long, narrow, grey, and singularly frayed on each side, adding to its sensitivity as an organ of taste.
The legs of a toucan are strong and rather short. Their toes are arranged in pairs with the first and fourth toes turned backward. Males and females are the same color. The feathers in the genus containing the largest toucans are generally black, with touches of white, yellow, and scarlet. The under parts of the araçaris (smaller toucans) are yellow, crossed by one or more black or red bands, and the edges of the beak are saw-toothed. The toucanets have mostly green plumage with blue markings.
Toucans are frugivorous (fruit-eating), but will take prey such as insects and small lizards. However, the function of the beak in feeding is not known, since many other birds consume these foods without the giant bill to help them. One likely use is to specialize on prey such as nestlings and bats in tree holes. In this view, the beak allows the bird to reach deep into the tree hole to access food unavailable to other birds.
They are arboreal and nest in tree holes laying 2-4 white eggs. The young hatch completely naked, without any down. Toucans are resident breeders and do not migrate. Toucans are usually found in pairs or small flocks.
The Toco Toucan has a striking plumage with a mainly black body, a white throat, chest and uppertail-coverts, and red undertail-coverts. The iris is blue and surrounded by a ring of bare, orange skin. The most noticeable feature, however, is its huge bill, which is yellow-orange, tending to deeper reddish-orange on its lower sections and culmen, and with a black base and large spot on the tip. It looks heavy, but as in other toucans it is relatively light because the inside largely is hollow. The tongue is nearly as long as the bill and very flat. With a total length of 55-65 cm (22-26 in), incl. a bill that measure almost 20 cm (8 in), and a weigh of 500-850 g (17.5-30 oz), it is the largest species of toucan. Males are larger than females, but otherwise the sexes are alike. Juveniles are duller and shorter-billed than adults. Its voice consists of a deep, coarse croaking, often repeated every few seconds. Also has a rattling call and will bill-clack.
The Toco Toucan eats mainly fruit (e.g. figs and Passiflora edulis) using its bill to pluck them from trees, but also insects, and nestlings and eggs of birds. Has been known to capture and eat small adult birds in captivity. The long bill is useful for reaching things that otherwise would be out-of-reach. It is also used to skin fruit and scare off predators. It is typically seen in pairs or small family-groups. In flight it alternates between a burst of rapid flaps with the relatively short, rounded wings and gliding. Nesting is seasonal, but timing differ between regions. The nest is typically placed high in a tree and consists of a cavity; at least part of which is excavated by the parent birds themselves. It has also been recorded nesting in holes in earth-bank and terrestrial termite-nest. Their reproduction cycle is annual. The female usually lays two to four eggs a few days after mating. The eggs are incubated by both sexes and hatch after 17-18 days. These birds are very protective of themselves and of their babies.
The Toco Toucans can become pets if taken from the nest and hand reared as babies. Their requirements are specific but basic, and must be strictly adhered to. Requirements include items such as spacious cages to move about because of their active nature, and toys in their cage to provide mental stimulation. They have an almost exclusive frugivorous (fruit) diet; with that diet comes a sensitivity to hemochromatosis (iron storage disease) which can make them difficult for the novice keeper to maintain. When provided with these things they make wonderful affectionate pets and can be quite hardy in a captive environment. The record for captive longevity is 26 years.
There is an ongoing population management plan that will help to attain the decreasing captive population of the Toco Toucan. This will be the second management plan that is occurring since 2001. When the population falls below 90%, reproduction will take effect by decreased birth weights, smaller litters and greater mortality rates. The existing captive population structures permits the changing of gene diversity by ninety percent for one year. This test will allow the captive population to have an increasing growth rate and overall improving the species by allowing the life span to be longer.
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