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Toucan Food Needs :


While all of toucans are known as softbills, their bill is anything but soft. “Softbill” refers to their diet of soft fruits.


With proper food and care, toucans can live 20 years or more. Diet is extremely important, as all toucans are susceptible to hemochromatosis, or iron-storage disease. Before modern diets, people used dog kibble as a source of protein. This brought an early end to the lives of many toucans. Today, it’s not difficult to feed a diet low in iron (less than 100 parts per million), because several manufactures offer low iron softbill diets.


Low-iron pellets, along with a variety of diced fruit, are all it takes to keep toucans happy and healthy. Avoid citrus fruits and tomatoes, as they can lead to the uptake of iron. Blueberries are probably the favorite fruit of all the toucans, but if your bird is free to roam the house, you might find blueberry stains everywhere. Grapes are relished by toucans as well. I use papaya as the basis for my softbill diet because it is a very nutritious fruit. Toucans do not need mealworms, crickets or any other live food, but will enjoy a large water bowl for drinking, as well as bathing.


Any of the large species will make a meal of a smaller bird, so if you have finches or lovebirds, keep them away from the larger toucans!


Toucan Care:


The smaller toucans are naturally quieter than the larger ones; most have little yelps or barks, and even make a purring sound when pleased or content. The Swainson’s toucan is the loudest. It has a very loud yelp that can carry for some distance. The rest are quieter; your neighbors might not even know you have a bird.


Toucans will play with toys, but be certain that there are no small parts that can come off, such as bell clappers. The best toys are wiffle balls or golf ball-sized plastic balls with all of the holes. They are light-weight toys that can easily be tossed about by the birds. Toucans can also learn to catch grapes thrown to them from across a room.


Most toucans like to be held and petted; others would prefer not to be touched but do stay tame. It just depends on the individual bird.


If you would like a toucan, consider your floor and wall coverings, as well as your furniture, and be prepared to answer the same question over and over from your nonbird friends: “Do they talk?” They do not.


Toucan Specifics:


Toucans are not parrots; they come from the family Ramphastidae, which also includes the toucanets and aracaries. There are 37 known species of toucans, and they fall in five different genera:


1) Genus Aulacorhynchus
2) Genus Selenidera
3) Genus Andigena
4) Genus Pteroglossus 
5) Genus Ramphastos


Native to the neotropics, a range that expands from Mexico to South America, toucans are primarily frugivores. They will also eat small lizards, bird eggs (or small chicks) and insects. They range in size: 12 to 24 inches long.





All About Pet Toucans


Have you ever considered a toucan as a pet? Learn about their care, diet and the different toucan species.


courtesy to : 


By Dick Schroeder

There used to be very few sources for tame, domestic-raised toucans, but more and more breeders are working with them now. They are a bit easier to find now, especially the smaller species, like the aracaris and toucanets.


I still believe the larger species of toucans — the toco toucans, Swainson’s toucans and keel-billed toucans— would be happier living in a planted aviary. However, if given plenty out-of-cage time, along with a cage large enough to house a macaw, they might do just fine. It means bird-proofing the house, as toucans are known for picking up and swallowing almost anything. Breeders have reported losing up to several of their toucans from the birds eating nails, staples, screws, etc., that were left over from the construction of the aviary. When the aviary is finished, use a large magnet on the floor before birds are placed in. Indoors, all little things have to be put away, especially if the bird has free reign of the house.


Toucan Species:


The smaller species of toucans are much better suited to life indoors. A smaller bird generally means smaller housing (and a smaller mess when you have to clean up after it!). They have similar personalities as the larger toucans and, while not as colorful as the larger species, they have interesting patterns and coloration.


The species most likely to be available as pets are :


- the green aracari (Pteroglossus virdis) -  the collared aracari(Pteroglossus torquatus

- the emerald toucanet(Aulacorhynchus prasinus)

- the Guyana toucanet(Selenidera culik).


- A little searching will reveal the ivory-billed aracari(Pteroglossus azara), or the very unique curl-crested aracari (Pteroglossus beauharnaesii), which looks like it has shiny, plastic curls on the crown of its head.


You will likely only find three larger species available:

- the toco toucan (Ramphastos toco).

- the keel-billed or sulphur-breasted toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), which is the species that the “Fruit Loops” cereal toucan is based off of .

- the Swainson’s toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii).






1) Genus Aulacorhynchus 

2) Genus Selenidera

3) Genus Andigena

4) Genus Pteroglossus 

5) Genus Ramphastos

        Aracaris are a type of bird, they are in fact a medium sized toucan. The name is pronounced with a soft “c” so you would say it “Ara-sah-ree”. Like all toucans they are recognizable by their bright plumage and very large colorful bills. They can be very active hopping from branch to branch and crying out. Their bill usually takes up around a quarter of the bird’s entire body and can be as long as 6 inches (15 cm). There is no discernible difference between males and females like in some other birds.

what is the difference between toucan and Aracari birds ?


Aracari - Medium-Sized Colorful Toucan


courtesy to : 

Collared Aracari



The aracaris are an arboreal species which do not migrate which means often they may live in the same tree for their entire lives. They build their nests in tree holes and lay between two and four eggs in each clutch. Breeding usually occurs between February and June. Unlike other toucans, this species are very social and they roost socially throughout all seasons. In fact, up to six adult birds will sleep in the same tree hole with their young with their large tails folded up over their backs. Their flock size doesn’t usually go beyond six birds and their bright plumage provides great camouflage in the rainforest canopy. Despite this, they have a very frequently heard cry which leads bird watchers and zoologists to believe they aren’t really trying to camouflage and it just happens to be a coincidence. Their main habitat is South America and the rainforests although they can be found in other woody and forested areas.



Their huge bills are not great to use as a weapon. They’re made up of a weak honeycombed bone structure and are mainly made up of air between the bone sections. Its size has been said to deter some predators but if it actually came to battle, it would be of no use. The bill is really useful for feeding though. As a feeding tool these birds are able to use their beaks to reach up to branches they cannot land on and retrieve fruits or nuts. Their diet does mainly consist of fruits but if necessary they do also eat small insects, lizards or even young birds from other species.



To know more abou the difference between toucan and Aracari birds: 

Emerald Toucanet Species Profile:


Traits:  The emerald toucanet is one of seven species of "mountain toucanets," all of which are mostly green. They are much smaller versions of the large black toucanet; their beaks, approximately 3 inches in size, make up for part of their overall 12 inches. Emerald toucanets are popular as pets as well as in zoos and private aviaries.


Active and highly intelligent, the emerald toucanet is a friendly species and is easy to hand-tame. They have charming personalities and can be trained to catch with their large bills. Because of their high activity level, they need a great deal of space in which to fly, hop and play.


Behavior/Health Concerns:  Emerald toucanets primarily eat fruit in the wild, and the same should be replicated in captivity. Because citric acid facilitates the absorption of iron, it is recommended not to give this species any citric fruits. In addition to a wide variety of fruits, their diet should be supplemented with a low-iron protein source. Emerald toucanets tend to be territorial and sometimes even aggressive with other bird species, so it is not advisable to place them in a mixed aviary.

Toucan Pets 

My Toucan is a Lap Dog

Some Species Review :


- Emerald Toucanet birds


Emerald Toucanet Stats

Scientific Name: Aulacorhynchus prasinus
Size:  12 inches
Native Region:  Southern Mexico south to northern Bolivia and southern Peru
Life Expectancy:  16 years
Noise Level:  Quiet
Talk/Trick Ability:  Good trick ability

Ivory-Billed Aracari Species Profile


Traits:  The ivory-billed aracari, one of the smallest members of the Ramphastidaefamily, is an affectionate, playful toucan. The ivory-billed aracari is a dimorphic species: the males have a black crown, whereas the females have a brown crown. The males also tend to have longer beaks. Although not very common in aviculture, they are popular among bird enthusiasts because of their personalities and positive traits as a pet.


Although ivory-billed aracaris are relatively new to aviculture, those that have been bred and kept as pets have proven to be delightful. Ivory-billed aracaris are comical, playful, affectionate birds that enjoy spending time with their owners. Because they are quiet, they could be kept in apartments. Like other toucan species, the ivory-billed aracari is active and needs a large amount of space in which to fly and play.


Behavior/Health Concerns:  Ivory-billed aracaris are highly active and need plenty of space to both fly and play; their cages should also have enough toys for entertainment. Their diet consists primarily of fruit in the wild, and the same should be replicated in captivity. Because citric acid facilitates the absorption of iron, it is recommended not to give this species any citric fruits. In addition to a wide variety of fruits, their diet should be supplemented with a low-iron protein source. Care should be taken regarding their housing; ivory-billed toucans should not be placed in a mixed aviary, particularly with smaller birds.



- Guyana Toucanet


Guyana Toucanet Stats

Scientific Name: Selenidera culik
Size:  10 inches (including 3-inch beak)
Native Region:  Venezuela, Guyana and Surinam
Life Expectancy:  16 years
Noise Level:  Moderate
Talk/Trick Ability:  Good trick ability

Guyana Toucanet Species Profile :


Traits:  The Guyana toucanet is dimorphic: the male has a black head and breast, and the female has a gray breast, black crown and chestnut nape. Both have red and black beaks, red irises, blue skin around the eye and yellow ear patches. Guyana toucanets can be hand-tamed, particularly when hand-fed as babies. 

The female Guyana toucanet is often regarded as one of the prettiest of the toucanets. Like other toucans, this species is intelligent, active, playful and affectionate. They enjoy learning and performing tricks and enjoy spending time with their owners.


Behavior/Health Concerns:  Guyana toucanets primarily eat fruit in the wild, and the same should be replicated in our homes. Because citric acid facilitates the absorption of iron, it is recommended not to give Guyana toucanet any citric fruits. In addition to a wide variety of fruits, their diet should be supplemented with a low-iron protein source. Because they tend to be territorial and sometimes even aggressive with other bird species, it is not advisable to place Guyana toucanet in a mixed aviary.


Guyana Toucanets

Green Aracari  :


Green Aracari Stats

Scientific Name: Pteroglossus virdis
Size:  10 inches
Native Region:  Northeastern South America
Life Expectancy:  16 years
Noise Level:  Quiet
Talk/Trick Ability:  Good trick ability



Green Aracari Species Profile :


Traits:  Green aracaris are among the most successfully bred toucans in aviculture. They are friendly and affectionate, making them a popular pet bird. Green aracaris are full of personality. They enjoy playing games, such as peek-a-boo, and can be loving toward their owners. They tend to not be one-person birds but rather bond with the entire family. Green aracaris are interactive, playful and thoroughly enjoy being a part of the family, which makes them popular as pets. They are very tame, particularly when hand fed, and are often recommended as a "starter" toucan species.


Behavior/Health Concerns:  Green aracaris are highly active and need plenty of space to both fly and play; their cages should also have enough toys for entertainment. Their diet consists primarily of fruit in the wild, and the same should be replicated in our homes. Because citric acid facilitates the absorption of iron, it is recommended not to give green aracaris any citric fruits. In addition to a wide variety of fruits, their diet should be supplemented with a low-iron protein source. Although they are very friendly with people, green aracaris should not be placed in a mixed aviary, particularly with smaller birds.



Tucano viridis - Pteroglossus viridis

- Ivory-Billed Aracari birds :


Ivory-Billed Aracari Stats

Scientific Name: Pteroglossus azara
Size:  150 grams
Native Region:  Southern Venezuela and northern Brazil
Life Expectancy:  16 years
Noise Level:  Quiet
Talk/Trick Ability:  Good trick ability

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan or Swainson's Toucan (Ramphastos swainsonii)

Swainson's Toucan  :


Swainson's Toucan Stats

Scientific Name: Ramphastos swainsonii
Size:  16 inches
Native Region:  Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador
Life Expectancy:  25 years
Noise Level:  Quiet
Talk/Trick Ability:  Good trick ability

Swainson's Toucan Species Profile


Traits:  Swainson's toucans are a hardy species, and because they are intelligent and playful, they have become popular as pets, and are often seen in zoos. Swainson's toucans are easy to care for and extremely playful.


Calm and gentle-natured, Swainson's toucans are highly intelligent and can be taught a wide variety of tricks, including but not limited to playing catch and mid-air somersaults. They are intelligent and affectionate, enjoying spending time cuddling in their owners' laps. Their antics are very entertaining, and they enjoy playing with many toys.


Behavior/Health Concerns:  In general, the Swainson's toucan is mild mannered and has a calm nature. It tends to get along well with other birds and can be housed even in a mixed aviary. Swainson’s toucans are highly active and need plenty of space to both fly and play; their cages should also have enough toys for entertainment. Their diet consists primarily of fruit in the wild, and the same should be replicated in captivity. Because citric acid facilitates the absorption of iron, it is recommended not to give this species any citric fruits. In addition to a wide variety of fruits, their diet should be supplemented with a low-iron protein source.

Toucans share their family name with toucanetsand aracaris, with American barbets the most closely related family. The family includes six genera and 42 different species of near passerine (arboreal land birds) of the order Piciformes.


Of these, toucans comprise two genera, Genus Andigena and Genus Ramphastos, which consists of all the large black toucans which can be found in every Latin American country except Chile, with 16 species and sub-species.


The Tupi Indians of Brazil are credited with the original name 'tucano' as translated into Portuguese.





- Toco Toucan:


Toco Toucan Stats:

Scientific Name: Ramphastos toco
Size:  Large, 20 inches (and an 8-inch bill)
Native Region:  South America
Life Expectancy:  20 years
Noise Level:  Moderate
Talk/Trick Ability:  None



Toco Toucan Species Profile:


Traits:  Toco toucans have a stunning presence and are usually kept as aviary birds. If hand-fed and properly trained, however, they can also make affectionate pets. The toco toucans are not for novice bird owners and need to be housed in the largest amount of space possible. They are active and curious birds who enjoy hopping around and picking up anything that looks interesting, so supervising their out-of-cage-time is a must.


Behavior/Health Concerns:  Toco toucans are susceptible to hemochromatosis (iron storage disease), so feed a diet low in iron. Diabetes is another medical concern. In the wild, toco toucans are omnivorous but the majority of their diet includes a variety of fruits. When kept as a pet bird, owners should provide various diced fruits, such as papaya, apples, bananas, avocados, melons, blueberries and grapes as well as low-iron softbill pellets. Toco toucans drink large amounts of water, so always have fresh water available. These toucans also need a lot of room and will do best in a very large cage or in an aviary where they can move around. If a toco toucan is kept inside, the cage should probably be custom-made so that it is large enough and caters to the bird’s active lifestyle. Toucans will get into any mischief they can, so out of the cage playtime should be closely supervised.

Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco)

Tucanuçu, Tucano toco, Ramphastos toco, Toco Toucan,

Toucans, Toucanets:


courtesy to : 


Other / Global Names:


Spanish: Tucán ...French: Toucan ...Czech: Tuka ...Danish: Tukan ...German:Tukan ...Italian: Tucano ...Dutch: Toekan ...Norwegian: Tukan
Polish: tukan ...Swedish: Tukan



Toucans (family Ramphastidae)


by Deborah Candland (on behalf of Avianweb)



Toucans have distinctive coloration, markings, and are particularly noted for their large colorful bills. Toco Toucan is the most recognized because of the bird's iconic use in advertising, and is also distinguished as the largest at 25 in. (64 cm) long and by having the widest distribution, found not only in tropical areas and dry savannahs, but also lives in northern Argentina where night temperatures during the winter are near freezing. 



Toucans principally reside in tropical forests of South America, particularly in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia.A few species are indigenous to Central America as far north as southern Mexico. Toucans are non-migratory and found only at lower altitudes.


These birds prefer to live in the tree canopies of rain forests in small groups of about six (sometimes more), although it is not uncommon to find a mated pair together. They hop from branch to branch on their short strong legs, enabled by their strong toes and claws, and bathe in water pooled in hollows of tree branches.

They often share their food, throwing it into each others' mouths, and preen each other with the tips of their long bills, requiring them to sit far apart.When flying together there is no particular formation or line.


The last three vertebrae are fused, joined to the spine with a ball and socket joint. This allows toucans to flip their tails above their bodies to touch their heads, the posture used for sleeping, with their bills protected and turned, resting on their backs causing them to resemble a ball of feathers. This compact posture allows many to roost together at night in even smaller hollows.


Toucans can do well in captivity, either in cages or in large flights where they can co-exist with other similar-sized birds. Almost all species have been bred successfully in captivity under the proper conditions.



The mating ritual is a fun-loving affair for toucans, as they throw fruit to one another.


Like all of their other activities, nesting happens high up in hollow areas in trees. The bill is not effective for digging or any other type of extensive excavation work and so they must rely on holes already formed by other means.


The nests are not lined, but the two to four shiny white eggs that are laid each year rest on a few wood chips created while enlarging the opening or on various kinds of regurgitated seeds collected for this purpose. Parents share equally in incubation duties, but rarely sit on the nest for more than an hour at a time and the eggs are often left uncovered. Both parents share in feeding fruit to the babies for up to 8 weeks.


After 16 days the nestlings are born blind, with no trace of down on their pink skin. The bill is unremarkable until about 16 days old when it takes on the distinguishing features of the toucan, and requires up to four months to develop fully.Feathers begin to expand at 4 weeks.

Babies have pads on their elbows that protect their feet by keeping them elevated until they fledge. 


Breeding in captivity requires attention to a number of details. Even successful breeders report rates as low as 30% for the incubation of eggs.

Notes on a few species:


Although this is yet a small sample of Toucans in aviculture, these are a few of the species I have personal experience with. Other than certain species having the tendency to be more aggressive towards their mates than others, most breeding behavior is quite similar in all species.


1-Toco (Ramphastos toco) :


The Toco is considered the "Rolls Royce" of Toucans, along with possibly the Keel Bill. Tocos, as all large Toucans have become increasingly hard to find. I remember reading an article in Cage Bird Magazine in the 70's how to find Hyacinths at the time, "it was easier to lie your way into Heaven". Well, the same could be said, about finding young healthy Tocos at a reasonable price in today's market. This pretty much applies to any large Toucan, other than Swainson's. Tocos are the largest of all the Toucans but tend to have one of the calmer dispositions, compared some of the smaller species. A baby Toco will always stay sweeter with less work that a Keel Bill.


2- Keel Bill (Ramphastos sulphuratus):


The Keel Bill is probably the most popular species I raise. This is due to its multicolor beak, which is the closest to "Toucan Sam" as it comes! Keel Bills have always been hard to find, as even during the heyday of imports in the 80's none were brought in. Although I love reading in Bates and Busenbarks book that in the early 60's Keel Bills were "inexpensive, and quite prevalent", that was before my time and man have things changed. Keel Bills are notorious for problems with hemochromatosis. A high percentage of older Keel Bills I have obtained have died of this disease. But as with other species, kept on proper diets they can be very hardy birds.



Toucans are known for their distinctive vocalizations consisting of a variety of constantly repeated shrill yelps. One of the most famous calls is described by locals as sounding like 'dios te de, te de, te de', and is likened to the Spanish for 'May God watch over you'. 


Some species are differentiated as making 'croaking' calls versus 'yelping' calls.

Toucans... My Experiences with their Care and Breeding


by Amado Summers courtesy to : 


Around 30 years ago, as a youngster in the 70's, I walked into a pet shop and saw my first Toucan up close. I was awestruck by it's exotic beauty, it's charming character, and it's colors... yes, I was hooked. I have spent many years since then learning about these wonderful birds. I have gone though many ups and downs, and much frustration to lead me to where I am today, successfully keeping and breeding Toucans as a full time endeavor.


Toucans, Toucanets and Aracaris all belong to the family Ramphastidae and are commonly known as "Ramphastids". There are approximately 42 recognized species however I think there might be a few mix-ups in subspecies, but I will leave that for the ornithologists to argue about!


From the largest of the Toucans, the Toco and Keel Bill, to their smaller cousins the Green Aracari and Emerald Toucanet, all Toucans are extremely beautiful, fascinating birds. They can offer much enjoyment to aviculturists either as a pet or as a breeding pair. From those who chose to house a handraised Toucan in a large indoor aviary, to those who keep pairs in large outdoor flights, there are many ways to enjoy Toucans.


All Toucans originate from Mexico, Central and South America and are a family that has been vanishing from American aviculture. One by one, species are gone. Those that just a few short years ago you could find easily and cheaply are now gone. Have you seen any Ariel Toucans for sale lately ? How about Citron Throated ? Cuvier's ? The list goes on and on and on.


Since that first Toucan came into my life years ago, I have been enthralled, fascinated and at times literally obsessed with Toucans. I have spent much time, money and effort in studying them, searching for them and yes, successfully breeding them ! For over 25 years I have dealt with the highs and lows of "Toucanitus", which can be just as afflicting as "parrot fever". Read on my dear future Ramphastid lover!



Acquisition :


Up until 1993, with the passage of the Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA) which ended commercial import of CITES listed species, many species of Toucans were still imported. Although never entering the country in great numbers like many psittacine species, they were still widely and cheaply available. Tocos, Red Bills, Channel Bills were all very common in the 300 - 800 dollar range in the 80's. Due to a seemingly never ending supply and high losses due to the then largely unrecognized Hemochromatosis or Iron Storage Disease, hardly anyone bothered attempts at breeding Toucans. (See Hemochromatosis below)


Well things are changed now, the psittacine market has largely crashed and burnt, Toucans are in demand and their prices are skyrocketing. I recently paid prices in the Hyacinth range for some Toco pairs ! Yes, friends, Toucans are no longer a "poor mans bird". Ever try telling a girlfriend you just dumped 100K into a few pairs of Toucans? First rule in "Toucan 101" ... this is not advised, better to lie and say you lost the money in Enron stock.


Note : There are three non-CITES species still being imported, two are readily available at a reasonable price, the Swainson's Toucan and Collared Aracari. The third, the Guyana Toucanet, is being brought in sporadically. There are other non-listed species, but most from countries that do not allow for their export. Why certain species of Toucans were left off CITES is a political issue that someone else could better explain.

My Aviary:


For years I kept my Toucans in outdoor flights. Living in a temperate area I had to catch them up every fall and keep them caged up all winter. This was stressful on the birds and keeping multiple pairs of Toucans in cages indoors is a messy, time consuming affair. Toucans can handle fairly low temperatures if they have protection from wind and rain. But if you are in an area that gets consistent below freezing temperatures you must have an attached heated shelter or you will have to move them inside in the winter.


For quite some time I contemplated another option and in 1999, after extensive research, I built my Toucans a passive solar aviary that allows them to stay in their flights year-round. Living in northern New Mexico, which is a "hotbed" in passive solar construction, I studied many different concepts. The structure my birds now live in is the brain child of Taos, New Mexico Architect, Michael Reynolds, and is called an "earthship". This is a structure with 3 foot thick rammed earth walls, south facing glass glazing and super insulated roof. The whole building is buried 6 feet into the earth, with a rear berm. The combination of thermal mass, solar gain and super insulated roof make a structure that maintains a tropical type temperature year round. I have seen outside temperatures of 10 below zero in the winter, 105 in the summer and inside the temperature remains a relatively steady 70 - 80 degrees year round. This is without any fans, heaters, air conditioners. In fact, this aviary is completely off the power grid and generates it's own warmth and cooling using the principles of solar energy and thermal mass. This allows me to have plenty of tropical foliage inside to provide an environment my Toucans love. Additionally, I am actually able to grow some fruit for them, in a 75' long greenhouse on the south side of the building.


One thing that is very important when building such an aviary, is having access to constant fresh air. I have visited zoo conservatory type aviaries in the winter that are stuffy, smelly, musty places. My aviary is designed with a natural venting system, using front windows that are low to the ground and operable skylights in the rear of each room. This allows, even in the coldest of weather, to have a flow of fresh air over each flight. The whole massive structure of this aviary acts like a "battery". If I were to open all windows in the middle of a winter night, as soon as I closed up the structure it would be back to a warm temperature shortly.


In such a year round warm environment, I have to be very diligent in keeping aviaries cleaned. If I go more than 10 days without cleaning each flight, I will get literally swamped with flies. Try as I might, there seems to always be one stray fly inside that can willingly "repopulate" his species! Toucans have a very large soft dropping which is perfect for breeding flies! I must also keep the area around the food bowls clean, to keep bugs to a minimum, which can be host to several different internal parasites. I do not use any chemicals inside, preferring to constantly dust a layer of Diatomaceous Earth to help control all insects. All the waste from the flights is composted and used to fertilize the plants inside. All water from the bowls is swished out each day and used on the plants. All aviaries are constructed with the birds well being in mind. If birds are comfortable in their surroundings, they are much more likely to breed. In all species of birds, it always seems the aviculturists that know their birds, name them and offer more of a friendly, loving atmosphere do much better than those who have rows and rows of sterile flights with numbers on them. Breeding Toucans to me, is much more of an art, than a science. Although I do have plans on increasing my flock size, I feel when you have to start hiring employees to do most or all the work, your production level, and the birds comfort level will both drop.


The first aviary that I have built using these methods has worked out well and the birds are are reproducing well. I have several more similar structures planned in future years. My initial experiments in my new aviary has my Toucans in much smaller flights than most people use. My Toucans are currently kept in flights approximately 6' wide, 7' high, and 12' long. My future buildings will allow larger flights. Being very active birds, I would never advocate attempting to breed toucans in typical commercial parrot breeders, "stack 'em deep, sell em cheap, chicken ranch type" standing cages. For long term health and breeding success, the larger the flight you can provide the better. However, they do not require a 25' flight for success.




Some of my favorite authors on softbilled birds of the 50's, 60's, and 70's, although well intentioned, didn't know what they were doing. Their misinformation doomed many Toucans to die from Hemochromatosis, or Iron Storage Disease. This misinformation is STILL being spread. Walk into any mall pet shop, look through the books and you will still find lots of the same old information being reprinted...."feed dog food and mice", yikes!


Hemochromatosis, is a disease that has literally wiped out hundreds, if not thousands of Toucans in captivity throughout aviculture history. It is only the last several years we have a handle on this devastating disease. Although there is still controversy over hemochromatosis, the bottom line is that in this author's experience, it is a nutritionally based disease. For years I had Toucans dropping right and left to hemochromatosis. Since the introduction of new Low Iron diets, I have not lost a single bird that I raised myself to this disease. Refer to the dietary section of this article for more info.


Though with many psittacines, you can feed an inadequate diet, keep them alive for years and maybe even breed them, not so with Toucans. If a Toucan is fed improperly, Hemochromatosis waits with an evil grin around every corner! The strange thing about the disease is that a bird can look and act fine and normal, then all of a sudden they just "Keel over" (Toco over?) and that's it. This is the main reason that buying adult Toucans that have changed hands several times is so risky. Just recently, against my better judgment I purchased a "young proven" (??) pair of Keel Bills off the Internet, only to watch them both succumb to hemochromatosis within weeks. If you obtain a young, healthy, domestic Toucan that has always been on a low Iron diet, and you keep this bird on a low iron diet, hemochromatosis is basically a non issue!




You must feed your Toucans correctly! If you don't, you will not simply have an unhealthy Toucan but you will have a dead Toucan! All the old books, recommended feeding either mynah pellets of the day or dog foods, which were loaded with Iron. Unless feeding babies, Toucans do not require live food for general upkeep. They need access to free choice fresh fruit, along with a protein source. Pellets are provided as a "side dish" to supply protein, vitamins and minerals that our fruits do not provide. I use newly developed, every batch tested, Low Iron Softbill pellets. Always seek the lowest available, it is currently thought best to keep the Iron at under 100 ppm, (parts per million) preferably, under 70 ppm. Many supposedly "low iron" pellets have been tested by private aviculturists, and found to be far higher than the manufacturer promised.


Toucans survive mainly on a Frugivorous diet in the wild! Yes, they eat some other foods, such as insects, nestling birds and eggs, but I think this quite possibly this could be mainly when they are feeding chicks, and at a far lower rate of consumption that many have always assumed.


I am currently doing research on other type of diets, without pellets and will publish information when available. In short, I feel we still do not know what the "best" diet is for Toucans. Many people use Papaya as a base for their fruit mix. I do not have year round access to Papaya, so I use melons and apple as my base and replace the melon with papaya when I can get a hold of it. There as many fruit mixes as their are aviculturists, and the exact mixture probably doesn't matter too much, as long as it is a non-citrus. Citrus is thought to allow increased uptake of Iron.


The current mix I feed my Toucans, along with my Mynahs, Toucanets, and Aracaris, consists of 20% melon, 20% soft red apple, 10% frozen blueberries, 10% frozen corn, peas, and carrots, 10% grapes, the remaining 30% is whatever I have on hand in fruits, such as pears, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries and bananas. The apples are washed well to remove any waxy coating and cored un-peeled. All seeds are removed from the melons, all frozen items are thawed. All is chopped to about small marble consistency. If large Toucans are given larger chunks of fruit, they tend to fly away with it, hammer it on a perch and waste a lot. I find with smaller chunks they will generally just do the standard "toucan toss back" and swallow it, no waste.


Due to a problem with colors fading in some species of my Toucans, I am currently experimenting with adding paprika, cooked yams, and other items high in beta carotene. Although the pellets I currently feed, have the coloring agent canthaxanthin added, apparently it is not enough. I have seen birds outside that were faded as well, so I don't feel keeping my birds indoors is the entire problem. It is probably a combination of not enough natural sunlight and beta carotene. My second experimental passive solar aviary will attempt to help solve this problem by numerous operable skylights above each flight, allowing natural sunlight to reach each and every bird.


Water is mainly used for bathing by Toucans which have proper fruit supplied, but they will drink some. Toucans with their large beaks cannot drink out of small water bowls. I use large, 9" minimum large dog crocks. These will not tip over, as the birds love to perch on the side and "dive in " for bathing. If your water quality is in question, high in Iron, and other minerals, bottled or distilled is recommended.


Breeding  :


Yes, Toucans are being bred in captivity, but in very low numbers. Toucans tend to have a very short breeding season, in my situation, usually June, July, and August, and this combined with things such as egg eaters, egg throwers, baby eaters, etc. make breeding them very challenging, and exciting! The smaller species, Toucanets, and Aracaris, tend to have a longer breeding season.


Of course the first thing required is having a healthy, mature, sexed pair. Most large Toucans can reproduce at 2 years, but seem to have more luck starting at 3 or 4. Smaller species can breed at 1 year. Having a pair that gets along is important. Some species, and/or individuals will be aggressive towards their mate. Normally it is the male, but I have also had pairs where the hen was the aggressor. Most mature Toucans can be visually sexed by their beak size, males being longer. But there is always the occasional short beaked male sitting next to a long beaked hen that can sometimes make it confusing. All birds therefore should be either surgically or DNA sexed. Usually this just confirms my guess, but I have been wrong.


When first introducing new birds, you must keep a very close eye. That long beak when jabbing out can severely injure, and even kill it's potential mate. Some of my pairs that get along fine when in their aviary, never would get along in large cages back when I used to have to catch them all up for the winter. Of the species I currently keep, Keel Bills are overall more aggressive towards their mates. In the small guys, Emerald Toucanets tend to be a bit more "Scarlet Macaw ish" than other species. When a pair has problems initially, I don't give up. I try all the "tricks" of successful aviculturists such as "howdy cages", trying in a new aviary, changing something in the aviary or simply separating and trying again later.


A suitable nestlog must be provided. Although the palm log is the most common due to its plentiful supply for breeders in warm areas, and ease of hollowing out, I use Aspen logs. A problem with palm logs is that the interior is so soft, many pairs will go all the way through very quickly. Another problem I have recently had with older Palm logs, is when they dry out and harden, the sides can splinter off, producing dangerous sharp twigs the birds can swallow. I do not have this problem with Aspens. I search my local mountains for old downed trees of a suitable size, then hollow them out with a chainsaw. I have to find logs that are just rotted enough to let me dig out the center, but still hard on the outside. I find that Toucans are not very picky about size, shape, color, etc., as long as it is within reason. Most toucans showing breeding behavior, will fly to and inspect ANY type log with a hole in it. I use logs that have between 12 - 30 inch depths, and 4 - 6 inch square entrance holes. Interior is in the 8" - 9" inch diameter range for smaller species like Channel Bills and Keel Bills, and 10" - 12" range for the larger species, such as Tocos, and Swainsons. My depths are far shallower than other breeders use, this is so I can get at the eggs/babies without taking the log down. All logs have wooden top, that is easily accessible, standing on a ladder through a door in the top of the flight. The interior sides are left very rough to allow easy access to and from the bottom, which is always just a natural concave surface. Toucans do not use nesting material. If fact, they spend a lot of time inside pecking like drunken woodpeckers trying to chisel more out. With some of my pairs I must place a false bottom, chiseled from a hard wood, so they won't go all the way through. This obviously, would be disastrous!


If all goes well, the larger species will fledge at approximately 7 weeks, and be weaned by around 2 weeks later. Handraising of Toucans from the egg is a touchy, delicate art, making day old psittacines seem easy. I have been experimenting the last decade with this, but as of now it is still a gamble pulling day 1 chicks, or incubating eggs. If you have lots of psittacine experience and really "know the ropes" incubating and hatching it is feasible. Problems include bacterial, fungal, and non absorption of the yolk sack. I hope within a few years to have this down to a more exact science but as of now, feeding day 1 Toucans is my opinion, is a risky business. I have had grand success, and heartbreaking failure. Pulling chicks after 7 days of parent feeding is the easiest way to guarantee success. Chicks are fairly easy to raise at this point on many different diets.


In previous years, it was written that baby Toucans required lower temperatures than psittacines. This was based upon seeing parent reared chicks not being brooded closely. This is entirely untrue. In fact, Toucans require higher temperatures. Day 1's need around 99 degrees Fahrenheit, with high humidity, to prevent dehydration. We have really messed up the natural order of things when trying to handraise day 1's, and what the parents do, with all the natural foods and immunities they pass along to the chicks, really has nothing in common with what we are trying to accomplish. Believe me, if I ever had a pair of Toucans that would successfully feed their young, I would never attempt at pulling day 1's or eggs. But unfortunately, many Toucans in captivity for a variety of reasons won't raise their young, but will produce fertile eggs.


Although the Iron in most handfeeding formulas for psittacines is extremely high, it does not seem to affect a baby Toucans liver, as long as they are weaned off it at a very early age. This is probably due to the high iron needs of a growing chick. I make a mix using standard handrearing formulas with a little applesauce, or other fruit added. As baby Toucans have no crops, you must be very careful feeding them. Aspiration is very common. You must be slow, let them swallow after each mouthful. Day 1 Toucans need to be fed every 1 - 2 hours for around 16 hours per day, probably all through the night for the first few days helps. They can be switched to every 2 - 3 hours at a week. I usually go for between 10- 20% of their body weight each feeding. In other words a chick when weighing 100 grams would get 10 - 20 ccs per feeding. The smaller chicks take a higher percentage, as they get larger, it drops closer to the 10% level. This is just a guideline, as each chick must be treated as an individual.


Weaning is a fairly simple affair, as soon as their eyes are open and they are starting to feather, start offering pieces of fruit and pellets with your fingers. Usually by the time they are fledged, they are already picking them out of the bowl. I watch the babies very carefully when stopping the handfeeding, as sometimes they will revert and require another week or two of formula.

3- Swainson's, aka Chestnut- Mandibled (Ramphastos swainsonii)


The Swainson was a highly coveted and sought after bird back in the 60's when Tocos and Keel Bills were a "dime a dozen". Then a few years back, they were left off CITES and some started coming into the US. Several importers are still bringing them in and they are now the only large Toucan in plentiful supply at a reasonable price. They are gorgeous birds. If handraised they tame up nicely. They have a HUGE drawback compared to their Toco and Keel Bill cousins however. In the Toucan world, there are "croakers" and there are "whistlers" and unfortunately Swainsons fall into the latter category. And do they ever! Swainson's can literally drive you nuts if you keep them in a pet environment. While Toco's, Keels, and other "croakers" have a frog like croak, the "yelp" of a Swainsons is part whistle - part scream and can be quite annoying. The only other Toucan that is found in the US that is in the "whistler" category, is the Red Bill. Swainson's, although being in current plentiful supply in the US, have never been bred much. Most "handfed domestic" Swainsons Toucans you see are all imports. Unless the bird has a closed band they are more than likely imports.


4- Channel Bill (Ramphastos vitellinus)
The Channel Bill was one of the most common and cheapest Toucan in the 80's. Now they are extremely hard to find. With their black beaks and colorful chests, they are a very dramatic little beauty compared to Keels and Tocos. I have had people whom have never saw a Toucan say that they are the prettiest birds I have.


Can Toucans make good Pets?

This all depends on who is keeping them. We all have different lifestyles and ways of keeping our creatures. If you desire a completely spotless house, there probably isn't ANY bird that will do for you. Yes, it goes without saying, any fruit eating bird can make a mess. But if you can sweep around the cage daily, mop once a week or so, it is manageable. Although I and many others have kept Toucans inside in large Macaw type cages, paying the money for a heavy wrought Iron gauge cage is overkill and is probably too small. Large finch type indoor aviaries would be superior, to where the birds can actually get a short flight back and forth from their perches. Something in the 6' tall, 6' wide, and at least 3' deep range would be more suitable than most standard size Macaw cages. Toucans do not climb and chew on wire as most psittacines do, so you can use most any light gauge wire for indoor enclosures. More important than the strength, or gauge of the wire is the spacing. Wild Toucans are notorious for injuring their beaks when put into wire cages that they can get their beaks caught in. There is no perfect size, but you either need small enough where they can't get their beaks in, or big enough so they can get them out. I am using 1" x 1" lately and it works OK. The smaller sizes of wire can lead to some birds breaking the tips of their beaks off, while a size of say, 1" x 2" allows a slot that a bird can get their beak into and literally gouge out a "notch" in their beak, and possibly lose the entire beak. The more calm a Toucan is, the less chance of something like this occurring. It is most common on completely wild, newly imported birds.


Toucans, when handraised, can be very loving, affectionate birds. Once you have a tame baby Toucan perch on your arm, purring softly as you caress his head, watch his eyes close in ecstasy, watch him playfully and gently take your hand and fingers into his beak, watch him catch grapes from across the room, have him fly to you from across the room begging to play, well, you must might become as big of a Toucan lover as I am!


Various Toucan Notes:

One interesting thing is the way Toucans sleep. They tuck their long beak into their wings, with their head turned, but the really funky way they "crash" is that their tails stick straight up. I always chuckle when I walk into a room of sleeping Toucans, looking like some dead birds a drunk Taxidermist has been working with!


Although Toucans can't really bite hard compared to a psittacine, if an angry bird gets a hold of your finger, they have a style of shaking their head very viciously that can cause a bit of pain! Even my tame baby toucans are never on my shoulder and I keep them away from eyes, ears and nose! Once you have your "beak" tweaked by an angry Toco, you'll never again give him the chance!


As previously mentioned, Toucans can at times be host to several different internal parasites. It is advisable to have fecal samples taken at least twice a year to keep an upper hand on this. Although catching up and de-worming Toucans is not my favorite chore, sometimes it is a must to keep the birds in prime health. I am currently attempting to eliminate all potential hosts of parasites, such as sowbugs and other small insects that can crawl into a Toucans feed bowl, and either purposely, or accidentally be ingested.


These buggers LOVE anything shiny, such as nails, bits of wire, screws or any small sharp piece of metal. And they will play with them, toss them around in their beak and sometimes, with deadly consequences, swallow them. Recently I lost one of my best Keel Bill hens, when a 1" drywall screw fell into her aviary. All Toucan cages or flights must be closely inspected and watched for any loose metal objects. It is the most common cause of accidental death in captive Toucans!


We do not have a lot of data concerning lifespan of Toucans. We do have the occasional 25 year old bird hanging around here and there, so it is thought that 20- 25 years is a good guess. I would say any Toucan that is 15 or older is on borrowed time, especially if they are older imports! It is very easy to pick out baby Toucans, especially in species such as Tocos, and Keel Bills, as their beaks are much less colorful and shorter than an adult. Once the bird is mature, is becomes very difficult to tell the age. If I see lots of overlapping beak growth on a bird, I would suspect it to be an older bird, but it can be very difficult guess. I currently close band all my babies, and keep detailed records, so in the future I will know the exact age, and bloodline of every Toucan I ever produce. This is something that has been sorely lacking in many Toucans bred in the US, and has led to a lot of inbred birds floating around.


Although as previously stated, some species of Toucans have a call that is a bit noisy, compared to most Macaws, Cockatoos and Amazons, Toucans are far quieter. And if you don't have the whistlers, it isn't bad at all. Just croaking and purring....sorry Swainson's and Red Bill lovers. When I recently sold my last pair of Macaws, after a lifetime of being "used" to their noise, it was quite a shock walking around the aviary without earplugs and being able to hear myself think for once!


Now everything isn't all Rosy in Toucan land though. To feed these seemingly always hungry long beaked buggers requires quite an expenditure if you have more than a pair or two. I would say it costs far more to feed Toucans than psittacines, if you are doing it correctly, and especially if you don't have access to the cheap fruit prices areas like California does. I know that you can get cases currently of the large Mexican Papaya in LA for $8 - 11, where here in New Mexico I pay $22. I also know that the Low Iron Softbill pellets I currently use, cost about 3 times what my parrot pellets cost!

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