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Toucan, Keel-Billed

Keel Billed Toucan at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Tad Motoyama

Scientific Name: Ramphastos sulfuratus

Did you know that the toucan’s beak is not heavy at all? It’s mostly hollow and made of keratin – the same kind of protein substance that your hair and fingernails are made of! The beak has thin rods of bone that help support it, and it feels like a hard sponge!

The keel-billed toucan is the national bird of Belize. It’s also known as the sulfur-breasted toucan, rainbow-billed toucan, and “the bill bird.” You probably wouldn’t say that the call of the Toucan is a song because it sounds more like a frog than a bird!

A Playful Bird

Toucans live in flocks of up to 12 other birds, have a family social structure within the flock, and can be very playful, too! They love to “duel” each other with their beaks and toss food to (and at) each other. They will pick the fruit with their bill, toss the fruit in the air, put their heads back, catch the fruit, and swallow it whole!

Keel-billed toucans are listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to their large range. However, as with other rainforest-dwelling birds and animals, toucans are vulnerable to deforestation and the illegal pet trade.

Toucans range from southern Mexico south to Venezuela and northern Columbia. They live in the canopies (tree tops) of tropical and subtropical rainforests. Toucans are gregarious and share their homes, made in the holes of trees, with several others. To make space for all the birds sleeping in the tree hole, they tuck their heads and beaks between their wings and cover their backs with their tails, looking like a little feather ball when they sleep.

Toucans primarily eat fruit, but are considered omnivorous because they will also eat insects, lizards, tree frogs, and other bird eggs. The beak of the toucan is very dexterous and lets them eat a large range of fruit that other birds might not be able to reach.

Toucans possess shiny black feathers with yellow necks and chests, red feathers at the end of their tails, and blue feet and legs. Keel-billed toucan beaks are green with a red tip and orange on the sides. Toucans are not the greatest flyers, so when they do fly, they use quick flapping followed by gliding for short distances. Toucans will usually hop from tree to tree.

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