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Meaning of Toucan

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Toucan is the common name given to several species that are found in tropical American forests. They are famous for their large and bright-colored bills. The literal Toucan meaning is derived from the Brazilian word 'Tucano.' Toucan symbolizes sharing wisdom and engaging in public speaking. The bird, due to its social skills, acts as a symbol of socializing and stage work. To define toucan, you must know what toucan is. Here, in this article, we have included all the necessary details about what is a toucan that will give you more knowledge and insights.

What is a Toucan?

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Toucan is commonly used as the name of about 15 species, including Ramphastos and Andigena. They also include the acraris and toucanets, that are known to be like toucan bird but smaller birds belonging to the same family. This brings the total number of species to almost 35. 

The Toucan bird family consists of five genera :

  • Aulacorhynchus are the green toucanets. 

  • Pteroglossus that are aracaris 

  • Selenides are the dichromatic toucanets. 

And the two main genera of toucans: 

  • Andigena is the mountain toucans, often known to migrate. These are medium-sized and are often found in Andes Mountains. 

  • Ramphastos are the typical toucans consisting of all the major species of toucans, including the toco toucans and channel-billed toucans. They are usually the large toucans that reside in lowland areas. 

Ramphastos species are giant toucans that are about 24 inches long. Hence, the best-known species in the toucan family is the toco toucan which is commonly known as the giant toucan. It is the largest species and is often found in central and eastern South America. This species can also be found in zoos as it acts as a major attraction. It has the largest bill in terms of body size. They are predators that even feast on small birds and reptiles. They are well-known to be quite protective of their chicks as well as themselves. They prefer open habitats and have benefited from deforestation in tropical South America. You can also find relevant toucan bird images online and get to know more about the subspecies.

There are two subspecies of Toco Toucan: 

  • R. T. Toco is found in Guianas and parts of Brazil and Peru. 

  • R. t albogularis: Typically found in parts of Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. 

The channel billed Toucan prefers woodland and is found in forests. They usually prefer humid regions. Just like other toucans, this too has a huge bill. Three subspecies of channel billed toucan have been recognized: 

  • Yellow Ridged Toucan: Found in upper Amazonia, as the name suggests, they have a yellow-orange breast that fades to white.

  • Race Culminatus: This consists of an additional red band before the black belly. It is found in Venezuela, northern Brazil, Trinidad, and the Guianas. 

  • Ariel Toucan: The base of this species' bills are yellow. And the entire chest as well as throat is orange in color. They are usually found in central and eastern Brazil. 

There are some common examples of toucans that can be found in zoos, namely the red-breasted toucan and keel-billed toucan. 

Toucans lay around 2 to 21 white eggs. Their nests are often found in tree hollows. Toucans are not known to migrate and are usually found in flocks or at least pairs.

Structure of Toucans 

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One-third of toucan's total length is the Toucan bills. The bills might appear as something weighty; it consists of a highly lightweight bone covered with the same material as human fingernails, keratin. Researchers have even discovered that these bills are highly efficient in thermoregulation systems, though they would rather use them to get hold of inaccessible food. Often the names of these famous species define their beaks, such as the yellow ridged toucan, the fiery billed aracari, etc., that define the bright colors in the shades of yellow, red, and white. This helps recognize the species as most of them have identical body structures and colors that are usually black with a bright breast color. The bills have a frightening effect on birds. The wings are short and rounded, while the tail is long. Their legs are strong yet short. The toes seem to be in pairs, with the first and fourth turned backwards. Toucans are uncoordinated fliers because of their structure and huge bill. They have a long tongue as well, which is narrow and grey. They are ripped on each side, which often adds to the sensitivity for tasting. 

Behavior and Ecology of Toucans 

  • Diet 

The Toucans often obtain food through their bills and must toss back their heads to swallow the same. They are considered to be mainly fruit eaters, but most of them even consume a wide variety of food, including snakes, insects, frogs, and sometimes even small mammals. Toucans also feast on the eggs as well as nestlings of songbird nests. Toucans form vast groups of two or more to search for fruit trees in the forest. 

  • Behavior 

Toucans are known to be exceptionally social. They are the noisiest lot of forest birds. The noise usually occurs from loud barking, harsh croaks, and bugling sounds. This takes place in a proper ritual, where large species saddle high in the top and make loud calls, followed by movements of the bill and the head. The vocalization helps in attracting groups of birds to hunting sites. The sounds also help recognize the species as similar species that live together also have very different calls. 

Toucans usually nest on treetop bands. Though they do not excavate their cavities, they find old nests of woodpeckers or natural holes formed due to the loss of tree branches. 

They lay about 2-4 eggs. The incubation periods in Toucans usually last from 16 days to even six weeks or longer. The hatchlings take about three weeks before opening their eyes. They are not born with large bills, but it grows during their time spent in the nest. The nestlings start their own life after about 45 days, though the family groups remain together for an extended period. Toucans are often seen in groups, and small flocks are noticed throughout the year. 

Toucans are not known to be migratory. They often live in primary forests; however, mountain toucans are seen to move up and down seasonally, searching for food. Toucans help maintain the tropical forest as they consume and remove seeds of a lot of plant species. As they are inadequate dispersers, they still have not crossed waters to reach the West Indies. 

Toco toucan bird is, in fact, the only none forest living toucan that is found in open woodlands. 

Toucans also fit in tiny tree cavities despite their huge beaks. This is possible as their tails are connected to their spine through a unique socket joint that allows them to flip it over their head, thus requiring less room while resting. 

Facts about Toucan

  • Multipurpose Beak: Growing a large beak would require a lot of energy, even though it comes with multiple advantages. The main benefit that it serves toucans is when it comes to foraging as it allows them to pick fruits. Large beaks let them reach food that is often unavailable to other birds. 

The bright beaks also help in scaring off the predators and the birds that might attack their nests. The different colors of their beaks also help in recognizing their breed. 

The toucans help in thermoregulation. Toucans can control the blood flow through their beaks, increasing the flow in helping for heat loss, thus reducing the flow of conserving heat. The beaks are known to be thermal windows and act as a competition with elephants' ears. 

  • Seeing Double: Toucans are known to match and look similar to numerous birds, including hornbills though they share nothing with the respective species. Toucans are closely related to woodpeckers and share similar adaptations. Hornbills and Toucans belong to separate continents but have similar adaptations. Thus they are an example of convergent evolution. Convergent evolution means having separate evolution, thus having similarities. The features are also starting to develop in both the groups as they were split into different lineages. Examples of Convergent evolution also fit for birds and bats, as well as sharks and dolphins. 

  • Poor fliers: Toucans are not very good at flying, irrespective of their large beaks, long tails but short wings. Even though they face problems while flying, they can move around with the help of their short yet strong legs. Toucans, just like woodpeckers, have two of their toes that point forward and the other two pointing backwards. This composition helps them have a strong grip on branches that provide them with strength and helps them stay stable while walking or hop in the forest. Due to their poor flying skills, they have reduced aerial mobility that restricts them from flying long distances. As a result, they cannot cross waters and are not found in the west indies despite being very close to the south American regions.

  • Noisiest Birds: Toucans are the world's noisiest birds. Their singing sounds like frogs cracking, and they make a lot of tapping and clattering noises with the help of their bills. Female toucans are known to have higher voices when compared to males. They use their voice to gather other birds for food hunting, and it helps them differentiate themselves from other species of toucans. 

  • They Face Threats in the Forest: The toco toucan is under the list of ‘least concerned' because of the large range. However, the overall population is fairly declining. Some species are also known as endangered because the rainforests are being taken down to build homes, farms, and other buildings. Some are endangered because of deforestation in Brazil. The hunters also keep an eye on toucans and capture them to sell for food or as trophies. As toucans feed on fruits, farmers also hunt them as they ruin their crops by stealing fruit. 

However, toucans are also known to help keep the rainforests alive as they eat the native fruits and seeds that help other plants grow, which helps in the forest's diversity. 

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What Family Toucans are Part of?

Ans: They are a part of a very big family: The family of Ramphastidae includes about 35 to 40 species of toucans that have smaller toucanets and even aracaris. The thing that is common in all of them is the larger bill compared to the rest of their body. They are cousins with woodpeckers as well, and they both share long feathery tongues and are often found nesting in tree cavities. However, toucans are still one of a kind while being closely related to woodpeckers. Toucans have five genera and have an extensive family ranging from the famous toco toucan to the grey-breasted mountain toucan. Their family consists of aracaris, toucanets, and toucans, while their relatives include the families of woodpeckers and barbets.

2. Can you Keep Toucans as Pets?

Ans: Toucans were even kept as pets in their native regions. Toucan's bills are often used for decoration purposes as well. Some places even allow selling the birds based on who spots their nest first. Toucans are also very famous as they were seen in advertisements for beer, and cartoon toucans were found as the mascot of breakfast cereal. There were several characters behind toucans as well in notable media projects, including Dora the explorer and Pokemon. 


Their lifespan is for about 20 years, and they are known to be brilliant birds. When kept at a zoo, they require a lot of distractions and toys. The zookeepers will have to feed them fruits and insects constantly. Scientists have concluded that these birds are monogamous and will continue to breed with the same mate every year. 

3. Can they Help in Protecting Forests?

Ans: Moreover, toucans are the most famous birds due to their appearance. They are very famous and are well known all over the world. However, when it comes to pitching fruit loops or entertaining the kids on a nature show, toucans are highly popular and versatile! It can also be referred to as woodpeckers. Like forest understory manikins, toucans can contribute towards forest diversity by maintaining their cycle as they eat and disperse seeds across different plant species.