Toucans are native to Southern Mexico, Central America and northern portion of South America and the Caribbean region. They generally live in tropical and sub-tropical regions. They are brightly marked and have oversized colourful bills which has made it one of the world’s most popular birds. There are approximately 40 different species and the family includes toucans, aracaris and toucanets. They generally eat fruits, insects and small lizards. They also play a very important role in seed dispersal of fruit trees.

Toucans range in size from the Lettered Aracari at 29cm to the Toco Toucan at 63cm. Their bodies are short and compact and the tail is rounded and varies in length. The neck is short and thick and the wings are small as they are forest-dwelling birds who only need to travel short distances. In fact they are not very good at flying and mainly travel between trees by hopping. The legs of the toucan are strong and rather short. Their toes are arranged in pairs with the first and fourth toes turned backwards.

Costa Rica Toucan

The large bill which in some large species measures more than half the length of the body. Despite its size, the toucan’s bill is very light, being composed of bone struts filled with spongy tissue of the protein Keratin between them. It is a honeycomb of bone that actually contains a lot of air pockets. Research has discovered that toucans regulate body temperature by adjusting the flow of blood to their beak. The beak also aids in the feeding process – they sit in one spot and reach for all fruit in range, thereby reducing energy expenditure. The long beak also allows the bird to reach deep into tree-holes to access food unavailable to other birds and ransack suspended nests built by smaller birds. They also use their bills to skin their pickings.

A toucan’s tongue is long up to 15cm, narrow, grey and frayed on each side, which increases its taste sensitivity. Toucans have an unusual vertebrae which allows them to snap their tail forward until it touches the head. This is the posture in which they sleep often appearing simply as a ball of feathers.

They make their nests in tree hollows and cavities excavated by other animals such as woodpeckers – their bill has very limited use as an excavation tool. Female toucans typically lay 2-4 white eggs in their nests. Both parents incubate the eggs for 16-20 days and once the chicks hatch, both parents continue to care for the young. Baby toucans are not born with an excessively large beak which grows as the birds develop. Toucans are resident breeders and do not migrate and are usually found in pairs or small flocks.

Their average life span in the wild is up to 20 years.


Lloyd Boutcher,

Director Sunvil Traveller