The Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco) is the largest and arguably best known species in the toucan family. It is found in semi-open habitats throughout a large part of central and eastern South America. It is a common attraction in zoos.
The Toco Toucan has a striking plumage with a mainly black body, a white throat, chest and uppertail-coverts, and red undertail-coverts. What appears to be a blue iris is actually thin blue skin around the eye. This blue skin is surrounded by another ring of bare, orange skin. The most noticeable feature, however, is its huge bill, which is yellow-orange, tending to deeper reddish-orange on its lower sections and culmen, and with a black base and large spot on the tip. It looks heavy, but as in other toucans it is relatively light because the inside largely is hollow. The tongue is nearly as long as the bill and very flat. With a total length of 55-65 cm (22-26 in), incl. a bill that measures almost 20 cm (8 in), and a weight of 500-860 g (17.5-30 oz), it is the largest species of toucan and the largest representative of the order Piciformes. The average Toco Toucan is 700 grams. Males are larger than females, but otherwise both are alike. Juveniles are duller and shorter-billed than adults. Its voice consists of a deep, coarse croaking, often repeated every few seconds. Also has a rattling call and will bill-clack.
A juvenile Toco Toucan.
It occurs in northern and eastern Bolivia, extreme south-eastern Peru, northern Argentina, eastern and central Paraguay, eastern and southern Brazil (excluding southern Rio Grande do Sul, the dry regions dominated by Caatinga vegetation and coastal regions between Ceará and Rio de Janeiro). Other disjunct populations occur along the lower Amazon River (Ilha de Marajo west approximately to the Madeira River), far northern Brazil in Roraima, and coastal regions of the Guianas. It only penetrates the Amazon in relatively open areas (e.g. along river corridors). It is resident, but local movements may occur.
Habitat and status
It is, unlike the other members of the genus Ramphastos, essentially a non-forest species. It can be found in a wide range of semi-open habitats such as woodland, savanna and other open habitats with scattered trees, Cerrado, plantations, forest-edge and even wooded gardens. It is mainly a species of lowlands, but occurs up to 1750 m (5750 ft) near the Andes in Bolivia. Because it prefers open habitats it is likely to benefit from the widespread deforestation in tropical South America. It has a large range and except in the outer regions of its range, it typically is fairly common. It is therefore considered to be of Least Concern by BirdLife International. It is easily seen in the Pantanal.
A Toco Toucan at London Zoo.
The Toco Toucan eats fruit (e.g. figs and Passiflora edulis) using its bill to pluck them from trees, but also insects, and nestlings and eggs of birds. It also has been known to capture and eat small adult birds in captivity. The long bill is useful for reaching things that otherwise would be out-of-reach. It is also used to skin fruit and scare off predators. It is typically seen in pairs or small groups. In flight it alternates between a burst of rapid flaps with the relatively short, rounded wings and gliding. Nesting is seasonal, but timing differs between regions. The nest is typically placed high in a tree and consists of a cavity, at least part of which is excavated by the parent birds themselves. It has also been recorded nesting in holes in earth-banks and terrestrial termite-nests. Their reproduction cycle is annual. The female usually lays two to four eggs a few days after mating. The eggs are incubated by both sexes and hatch after 17-18 days. These birds are very protective of themselves and of their babies.
The Toco Toucan is sometimes kept in captivity, but has a high fruit diet and is sensitive to hemochromatosis (an iron storage disease). There is an ongoing population management plan that should help to revert the decreasing captive population of the Toco Toucan in AZA institutions. This will be the second management plan that is occurring since 2001.