Facts about toucans

Written by nancy hayden
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Facts about toucans
Toucans are colourful, South American birds. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Toucans are colourful, big-billed South American birds. Over 40 species of toucan exist. They range in size and plumage, but all have the distinctive, chunky beak. Toucans possess the largest beaks relative to size of any type of living bird. In some species, the beak accounts for one twentieth of the animal's entire body weight.

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Toucans are medium-sized birds that range in size from the smallest, the aracar toucanet, at 14 inches long, to the largest, the toco toucan, at 25 inches in length. The various toucan species tend to be black in colour with brightly coloured beaks, faces and chests. The birds' beaks are large, chunky and curved but lighter in weight than they might appear to be. Beaks are made out of keratin, the same substance as hair and finger nails. Toucan wings tend to be small compared to other birds, as they do not have to fly long distances. Males and females look almost identical, except that the males tend to be larger.

Habitat and Range

Toucans range through much of South and Central America as well as parts of the Caribbean. The birds are common in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Suriname. Toucans tend to prefer the tropical forest regions, living high in the canopy, and will often hop between branches rather than fly.

Diet and Predators

Toucans mainly eat canopy fruits, moving around seasonally to take advantage of the varieties of fruiting trees. The birds are opportunist eaters as well, and they will eat insects, small mammals and reptiles, and occasionally the eggs of other birds. The birds' large beaks are useless as defensive weapons although they might deter some smaller predators. Predators of toucans include wildcats such as jaguars and pumas, and birds of prey such as eagles. Snakes and climbing rodents are more dangerous to toucan chicks and eggs that are still in the nest.

Life Cycle

Toucans are generally social birds, living in small flocks and pairing off for mating. The females lay two to four eggs, often in a small tree hollow nest, and both parents share the incubation duties. Incubation takes around two weeks for most species and both parents again take the duty of feeding the chicks. Depending on species, the young can leave the nest after 43 days to eight weeks. Toucans are playful birds and, when not eating, will play games together.

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