Jump to content


Page semi-protected
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Temporal range: 2–0 Ma
Early Pleistocene – recent
Clockwise from top-left: toco toucan (Ramphastos toco), plate-billed mountain toucan (Andigena laminirostris), chestnut-eared aracari (Pteroglossus castanotis), white-throated toucanet (Aulacorhynchus albivitta)
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Suborder: Pici
Infraorder: Ramphastides
Family: Ramphastidae
Vigors, 1825

Toucans (/ˈtkæn/, UK: /-kən/) are Neotropical birds in the family Ramphastidae. The Ramphastidae are most closely related to the Toucan barbets. They are brightly marked and have large, often colorful bills. The family includes five genera and over 40 different species.

Toucans are arboreal and typically lay two to four white eggs in their nests. They make their nests in tree hollows and holes excavated by other animals such as woodpeckers—the toucan bill has very limited use as an excavation tool. When the eggs hatch, the young emerge completely naked, without any down. Toucans are resident breeders and do not migrate. Toucans are usually found in pairs or small flocks. They sometimes fence with their bills and wrestle, which scientists hypothesize they do to establish dominance hierarchies. In Africa and Asia, hornbills occupy the toucans' ecological niche, an example of convergent evolution.[1]

Taxonomy and systematics

The name of this bird group is derived from the Tupi word tukana or the Guaraní word tukã,[2] via Portuguese.[3] The family includes toucans, aracaris and toucanets; more distant relatives include various families of barbets and woodpeckers in the suborder Pici.

The phylogenetic relationship between the toucans and the eight other families in the order Piciformes is shown in the cladogram below.[4][5] The number of species in each family is taken from the list maintained by Frank Gill, Pamela C. Rasmussen and David Donsker on behalf of the International Ornithological Committee (IOC).[6]


Galbulidae – jacamars (18 species)

Bucconidae – puffbirds (38 species)

Indicatoridae – honeyguides (16 species)

Picidae – woodpeckers (240 species)

Megalaimidae – Asian barbets (35 species)

Lybiidae – African barbets (42 species)

Capitonidae – New World barbets (15 species)

Semnornithidae – toucan barbets (2 species)

Ramphastidae – toucans (43 species)


The lettered aracari is the smallest species of toucan.

Toucans range in size from the lettered aracari (Pteroglossus inscriptus), at 130 g (4.6 oz) and 29 cm (11 in), to the toco toucan (Ramphastos toco), at 680 g (1.50 lb) and 63 cm (25 in). Their bodies are short (of comparable size to a crow's) and compact. 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. The wings are small, as they are forest-dwelling birds who only need to travel short distances, and are often of about the same span as the bill-tip-to-tail-tip measurements of the bird.

The toco toucan is the largest species of toucan.

The legs of the toucan are strong and rather short. Their toes are arranged in pairs with the first and fourth toes turned backward. The majority of toucans do not show any sexual dimorphism in their coloration, the genus Selenidera being the most notable exception to this rule (hence their common name, "dichromatic toucanets"). However, the bills of female toucans are usually shorter, deeper and sometimes straighter, giving more of a "blocky" impression compared to male bills. The feathers in the genus containing the largest toucans are generally purple, with touches of white, yellow, and scarlet, and black. The underparts of the araçaris (smaller toucans) are yellow, crossed by one or more black or red bands. The toucanets have mostly green plumage with blue markings.

Spot-billed toucanets have smaller bills than Ramphastos toucans.

The colorful and large bill, which in some large species measures more than half the length of the body, is the hallmark of toucans. Despite its size, the toucan's bill is very light, being composed of bone struts filled with spongy tissue of keratin[7] between them, which take on the structure of a biofoam.[8] The bill has forward-facing serrations resembling teeth, which historically led naturalists to believe that toucans captured fish and were primarily carnivorous; today it is known that they eat mostly fruit. Researchers have discovered that the large bill of the toucan is a highly efficient thermoregulation system, though its size may still be advantageous in other ways.[9][10] It does aid in their feeding behavior (as they sit in one spot and reach for all fruit in range, thereby reducing energy expenditure), and it has also been theorized that the bill may intimidate smaller birds, so that the toucan may plunder nests undisturbed (see Diet below). The beak allows the bird to reach deep into tree-holes to access food unavailable to other birds, and also to ransack suspended nests built by smaller birds.

A toucan's tongue is long (up to 15 cm (5.9 in)), narrow, grey, and singularly frayed on each side, adding to its sensitivity as a tasting organ.

A structural complex probably unique to toucans involves the modification of several tail vertebrae. The rear three vertebrae are fused and attached to the spine by a ball and socket joint. Because of this, toucans may snap their tail forward until it touches the head.[11] This is the posture in which they sleep, often appearing simply as a ball of feathers, with the tip of the tail sticking out over the head.

Distribution and habitat

The black-billed mountain toucan is a mountain species

Toucans are native to the Neotropics, from Southern Mexico, through Central America, into South America south to northern Argentina. They mostly live in the lowland tropics, but the mountain species from the genus Andigena reach temperate climates at high altitudes in the Andes and can be found up to the tree line.[12]

For the most part the toucans are forest species, and restricted to primary forests. They will enter secondary forests to forage, but are limited to forests with large old trees that have holes large enough to breed in. Toucans are poor dispersers, particularly across water, and have not reached the West Indies. The only non-forest living toucan is the toco toucan, which is found in savannah with forest patches and open woodlands.[12]

Behaviour and ecology

Toucans are highly social and most species occur in groups of up to 20 or more birds for most of the time. Pairs may retire from the groups during the breeding season, then return with their offspring after the breeding season. Larger groups may form during irruptions, migration or around a particularly large fruiting tree.[12]

Toucans often spend time sparring with their bills, tag-chasing, and calling during the long time it takes for fruit to digest. These behaviours may be related to maintenance of the pair bond or establishing dominance hierarchies, but the time required to digest fruit, which can be up to 75 minutes and during which the toucan can not feed,[13] provides this time for socializing.[12]


Toucans, like this red-breasted toucan (Ramphastos dicolorus), nest in hollows in trees

Toucans are primarily frugivorous (fruit eating), but are opportunistically omnivorous and will take prey such as insects, smaller birds, and small lizards.[14] Captive toucans have been reported to hunt insects actively in their cages, and it is possible to keep toucans on an insect-only diet. They also plunder nests of smaller birds, taking eggs and nestlings.[15][16] This probably provides a crucial addition of protein to their diet. Certainly, apart from being systematically predatory as well as frugivorous, like many omnivorous birds, they particularly prefer animal food for feeding their chicks.[17] However, in their range, toucans are the dominant frugivores, and as such, play an extremely important ecological role as vectors for seed dispersal of fruiting trees.[18][19]

Breeding behaviour

Toucans nest in cavities in trees, and the presence of suitable trees is a habitat prerequisite for toucans. For the most part toucans don't excavate nesting cavities, although some green toucanets do.


Toucans make a variety of sounds. The very name of the bird (from Tupi) refers to its predominant frog-like croaking call, but toucans also make barking and growling sounds. They also use their bills to make tapping and clattering sounds. Mountain toucans are known for donkey-like braying.[20]

Relationship with humans

The toucans are, due to their unique appearance, among the most popular and well known birds in the world.[12] Across their native range they were hunted for food and also kept as pets, and their plumage and bills were used for decorations. In some places anyone that discovers a nest is deemed its owner and is entitled to sell the birds within.[citation needed] In the western world they were first popularised by John Gould, who devoted two editions to a detailed monograph of the family.[12] The constellation Tucana, containing most of the Small Magellanic Cloud, is named after the toucan.

The family has been used prominently in advertising. During the 1930s and 1940s Guinness beer advertising featured a toucan, as the black and white appearance of the bird mirrored the stout.[12] A cartoon toucan, Toucan Sam, has been used as the mascot of Froot Loops breakfast cereal since 1963, and a toucan is the mascot of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party; its party members are called tucanos for this reason.

Toucans have also been used in popular media. They have been used as the principal characters in Toucan Tecs, a 1992 UK television cartoon about two detectives named Zippi and Zac. In Dora the Explorer, the character Señor Túcan is a Spanish-speaking toucan who occasionally gives Dora and her friends advice. Tuca, the anthropomorphic title character of the 2019 show Tuca & Bertie is a Toucan, and the companion of the song thrush Bertie. In the 2016 Nintendo 3DS game Pokémon Sun and Moon, the Pokémon Toucannon and its previous evolutions were modeled after a Toco Toucan.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Ferrara, Sue. "The Difference Between A Toucan & A Hornbill". animals.mom.me. Pets on Mom. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  2. ^ Jobling, J. A. (2010). Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. ^ "Vocabulário Tupi-Português do Curso Elementar de Tupi Antigo" [Elementary Course for Tupi-Portuguese Vocabulary of the Old Tupi] (in Portuguese). Universidade de São Paulo. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2015 – via fflch.usp.br.
  4. ^ Kuhl, H.; Frankl-Vilches, C.; Bakker, A.; Mayr, G.; Nikolaus, G.; Boerno, S.T.; Klages, S.; Timmermann, B.; Gahr, M. (2021). "An unbiased molecular approach using 3′-UTRs resolves the avian family-level tree of life". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 38 (1): 108–127. doi:10.1093/molbev/msaa191. hdl:21.11116/0000-0007-B72A-C.
  5. ^ Stiller, J.; et al. (2024). "Complexity of avian evolution revealed by family-level genomes". Nature. 629: 851–860. doi:10.1038/s41586-024-07323-1. PMC 11111414.
  6. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (December 2023). "IOC World Bird List Version 14.1". International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 17 June 2024.
  7. ^ "Biomimetics". Pulse. Jacobs School of Engineering, University of California San Diego. Spring 2005. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  8. ^ Meyers, Marc André; Chen, Po-Yu; Lin, Albert Yu-Min; Seki, Yasuaki (1 January 2008). "Biological materials: Structure and mechanical properties". Progress in Materials Science. 53 (1): 1–206. doi:10.1016/j.pmatsci.2007.05.002. ISSN 0079-6425.
  9. ^ Tattersall, G. J.; Andrade, D. V.; Abe, A. S. (2009). "Heat Exchange from the Toucan Bill Reveals a Controllable Vascular Thermal Radiator". Science. 325 (5939): 468–70. Bibcode:2009Sci...325..468T. doi:10.1126/science.1175553. PMID 19628866. S2CID 42756257.
  10. ^ "Hot secret behind toucan's bill". BBC News. 23 July 2009.
  11. ^ Reynolds, J. (2003). "Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 7. Jacamars to Woodpeckers". Biological Conservation. 111 (2): 280–281. doi:10.1016/S0006-3207(02)00275-6.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g Short, L.L. & Horne, J.F.M. (2017). Toucans (Ramphastidae). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/52284 on 25 March 2017).
  13. ^ Wheelwright, Nathaniel T. (1 January 1991). "How Long do Fruit-Eating Birds Stay in the Plants Where They Feed?" (PDF). Biotropica. 23 (1): 29–40. Bibcode:1991Biotr..23...29W. doi:10.2307/2388685. JSTOR 2388685.
  14. ^ Remsen, J.V. Jr.; Hyde, Mary Ann; Chapman, Angela (1993). "The Diets of Neotropical Trogons, Motmots, Barbets and Toucans". The Condor. 95 (1): 178–92. doi:10.2307/1369399. JSTOR 1369399.
  15. ^ Nadkarni, Nalini M. ; Wheelwright, Nathaniel T. (Editors). Monteverde: Ecology and Conservation of a Tropical Cloud Forest. Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513310-3
  16. ^ Robinson, S.K. (1985). "Coloniality in the Yellow-Rumped Cacique as a Defense against Nest Predators" (PDF). Auk. 10 (3): 506–19. doi:10.1093/auk/102.3.506.
  17. ^ Short, Lester; Horne, Jennifer. Toucans, Barbets and Honeyguides. Publisher: Oxford University Press 2002. ISBN 978-0-19-854666-5
  18. ^ Pizo, M.A.; Donatti, C.I.; Guedes, N.M.R.; Galetti, M. (2008). "Conservation puzzle: Endangered hyacinth macaw depends on its nest predator for reproduction" (PDF). Biological Conservation. 141 (3): 792–96. Bibcode:2008BCons.141..792P. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2007.12.023. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
  19. ^ Sezen, U.U. (2009). "Proximity is not a proxy for parentage in an animal-dispersed Neotropical canopy palm". Proc Biol Sci. 276 (1664): 2037–2044. doi:10.1098/rspb.2008.1793. PMC 2677255. PMID 19324791.
  20. ^ San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance
  21. ^ "#733 Toucannon". Serebii.net. Retrieved 24 January 2017.

External links

  • Video of a chestnut-mandibled toucan pair raising their chicks.