© Amado Summers
For those looking for a truly "exotic" bird, a bird that is gorgeous, unique, friendly and playful, Toucans, Toucanets, and Aracaris fit the bill. They are very different from parrots, in both appearance and diet requirements, but, with proper care, can make a wonderful addition to your "flock"!
All three of these types of birds make up the family Ramphastidae, and are commonly known as "Ramphastids." All are considered "Toucans." Whereas the large Toucans such as Keel Bills and Tocos are quite rare and expensive, the smaller species of Toucanets and Aracaris, can be obtained for around the same price as you would expect to pay for a large parrot.
Toucans are found in Mexico, Central and South America and although there are around 45 species, only a few are readily available in the U.S. Scientists tend to disagree on certain subspecies and, in fact, I would not be surprised to see the number go higher in years to come, as certain geographically separated species are newly classified as their own race.
Some of the more rare species have never been seen by me, or most people outside of their native habitats, and due to import restrictions, most species of Toucans are quite rare today in the US. Many species that were common 15 years ago are nonexistent in U.S. aviculture today. I am happy to say that a large percentage of all my young raised are held back for second generation breeders. This will help insure these birds will be around here in the U.S. long after I am gone.
Toucans are known as a "softbilled" bird, this has nothing to do with the soft or hardness of their beaks, but in the foods they eat, which consist mainly of fruits. No seeds or nuts, common foods of parrot-type birds, should ever offered a Toucan. Their diet in the wild is based on fruits, and occasional insects. One recent study documented over 100 fruits Toucans feed upon.
In captivity, Toucans do well on a diet 50% of a low iron softbill pellet, and 50% chopped fruits, such as melon, apple, papaya, grapes and blueberries. No citrus fruit should ever be offered Toucans, as the acid content is thought to help uptake the intake of iron, which can cause problems.
In years past, Toucans were thought to be fragile, and short lived, but this was usually due to the disease, "Hemochromatosis," or Iron Storage. This is a problem with the liver, due to high Iron levels in the birds diet. Many of the foods Toucans have been fed in past years were death warrants, such as dog foods, but if fed a proper diet, Toucans in captivity have a lifespan of around 25 years.
Most Toucan species are far quieter than parrots. There is no yelling, shrieking, or squawking. Also no chewing, or plucking. And to add to the positive side of the "Toucan equation," they are not susceptible to most viral and bacterial problems that parrots are. In short, if fed properly, Toucans are quite hardy birds!
In my aviaries, after years of breeding Cockatoos, Macaws, Eclectus Greys, etc, these days it is very pleasant to walk around without needing earplugs. Species such as Tocos and Keel Bills are far less noisy than even "quiet" parrots, such as African species.
If a baby Toucan is handraised and/or worked with while very young, they can make great pets. They do require somewhat roomier accommodations that a parrot, large macaw sized cages work fine, as do indoor or outdoor aviaries, allowing flight space.
Toucans droppings clean up easy, being fruit based, do not smell, and they do not "squirt" in the manner that some lories do. There are no seed hulls to sweep up, so keeping Toucans as an indoor pet, is no more work than keeping a parrot.
A common question is, "Do Toucans 'talk'?" Well, they don't, but they more than make up for their lack of "verbal communication" with their personality! A tame Toucan can be quite playful, learning tricks, catching grapes thrown from across the room, and in short, being everything one would wish for in a pet bird.
A tame Toucan can be affectionate, love to be touched, hugged, and interacted with. They will become a very integral and loved part of your family!
Toucans are being bred in the captivity in extremely small numbers, and there are only a handful of aviculturists working with them. Breeding these birds takes a lot of time, and effort. There is a long road you must trek upon when breeding Toucans, and each and every path can have obstacles. You must get a pair to accept each other and bond, you must get eggs, you must get fertile eggs, you must get eggs to hatch, you must get babies through the first critical week, and finally you must get them weaned. I have personally been working with Toucans for over 25 years, and am still fine-tuning my methods. Make no mistake, breeding of Toucans will always be an effort that although very demanding and time consuming, can be extremely rewarding in the end to the experienced aviculturist.
The largest, and most coveted of all the Toucans is the Toco. Tocos are an absolutely stunning bird, and have one what is probably the sweetest temperament of all Toucans. From the stunning orange bill with black highlights, to the sky blue eye ring, to their red rumps, Tocos are so beautiful, it's hard to imagine they are real!
Keel Bills are quite popular, due to "Toucan Sam," the Fruit Loop bird! Their body and beaks are smaller than Tocos, but the all the colors of the rainbow are there! They do tend to be a bit more active and feisty than Tocos.
Swainson's Toucans are the most readily large Toucan available in the U.S., they have one drawback when compared to their Toco and Keel Bill cousins. Where as the former have a frog-like "croak" as their main call, the Swainson's have a "whistling yelp," that, although it does not quite reach "cockatoo" decibels, indeed makes them the nosiest Toucan you are likely to find for sale here in the U.S.
Emerald Toucanets, with their "eclectus like" green and small size, offer a visually stunning contrast to their larger black bodied cousins.
Guyana Toucanets, unlike most Toucans species, are sexually dimorphic (males differ from hens in feather coloration) and are a truly remarkable blend of a full palette of blues, reds, and other colors. Green Aracaris are one of the smallest of all the Toucans, and another dimorphic species. The hens have a brown neck, where the males are black. Greens being very apartment sized, are excellent for a first Toucan.
There are many other species of Toucans, and as stated previously, most unfortunately will never be seen in the U.S., due to import restrictions. Of all the species I work with, at least 50% of my babies are held back for future breeders, to insure they will be around for future aviculturists to enjoy, and work with. Meticulous records are kept to keep track of bloodlines, and to prevent inbreeding.
One note, most species of Toucans such as Tocos, which are very rare in the U.S., are, in fact, not endangered, and not threatened in the wild. In fact, in parts of Brazil Tocos are currently expanding their range. In other words, there is no harm by putting some into loving pet homes, as long a healthy percentage are kept in the hands of breeders.
If you are looking for a new addition to your "flock," you simply can't go wrong with a Toucan!
For more information on Toucans, please visit my website at www.SummersBirds.com .
If you have any questions on Toucans, feel free to drop me an e-mail, at MrHyacinth@SummersBirds.com .