Everyone coming to the American Tropics wants to see a toucan. They are among the most colorful and bizarre-looking birds in the forest. This is everything you need to know about toucans!
The Famous Toucan Bill
Certainly, the most famous feature toucans have is their long, colorful, and thick bills. Some species even have bills longer than their bodies. Toucans use those bills to reach fruit and berries from thin branches. Their bills are hollow but extremely tough, allowing toucans to defend themselves from predators.
Those bills also have an important role in nature.
Ecologists consider toucans among the most important seed dispersers in the rainforest. Toucans prefer to eat very eat ripe or even rotten fruit, and the seeds of the well-ripened choices have a much higher germination rate. As these tropical birds spread more and more seeds, the opportunity for the seeds to grow becomes greater.
While fruit is a staple of their diet they actively hunt other animals including tarantulas, lizards and other birds – especially eggs and hatchlings from nests.
Toucans' Other Traits
Toucans are cavity nesters. They pilfer woodpecker holes for nesting and roosting. One of the funniest things to watch is five or six toucans squishing into a small woodpecker hole, one on top of the other. They are so fixated on taking over the hole, they stack themselves up, one on top of the other, like a tropical totem pole.
And did you know that toucans spend more time hopping than flying? They have small wings, so they need to flap their wings a lot to fly. To conserve energy, that's why they are more often found sitting in trees than flying. Who would've thought!
When it comes to reproduction, toucans typically breed during the spring and are believed to be monogamous, at least throughout the breeding season and while rearing the young.
Detailed studies on toucan longevity are lacking, but most sources suggest that toucans live for an average of 12 to 20 years in the wild. They spend much of their lives in the canopy and rarely see the forest floor, but hey! This is the best place to see toucans in the wild, so keep an eye out for birds in Costa Rica and you should see toucans at some point.
Sadly, even with the destruction of their habitat, the biggest threat these birds face is the pet trade. Their colorful nature makes them very appealing to people, but it threatens their numbers. Protecting toucans is a job for all of us! Never buy a toucan and denounce those who sell them.
Species & Where to See Them
There are six species of toucan in Costa Rica:
- Keel-billed toucan
- Yellow eared toucanet
- Black mandibled toucan
- Fiery billed Aracari
- Emerald toucanet
- Collared Aracari
All the 6 species mentioned can be found in the rainforests around the country and they generally live in small groups.
Some of the best places to observe these birds are the Arenal Volcano & La Fortuna area, Manuel Antonio National Park, Sarapiqui, Puerto Viejo, Limon, the Pacific Coast in Guanacaste, Monteverde, Turrialba, Cartago, and the mountains in the Central Valley.
Basically everywhere! During your next visit to the tropics, listen for their distinctive calls and look for trees with ripe fruit, and you’re bound to spot a toucan. Also, there are guided tours with nature experts if you want a more educational experience and a birdwatching adventure!