Overview ... Alternate (Global) Names ... Distribution / Habitat ... Subspecies, Ranges and ID ... Description ... Calls / Vocalizations ... Breeding / Nesting ... Diet / Feeding
The Keel-billed Toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus) are also known as Sulfur-breasted Toucans or Rainbow-billed Toucans.
These colorful South American toucans have distinctive oversized, multi-colored bills for which they were named. Even though these beaks appear large and cumbersome, they are actually very light (yet strong), as they are made out of spongy and hollow bones that are covered in keratin (a light protein that also makes up human hair and finger nails).
As part of the courtship ritual, these toucans will use their large bills play to playfully "duel" with each other or to throw fruit into each other's mouths.
The sociable Keel-billed Toucans are rarely seen alone. They typically live in small flocks of six to twelve and sometimes up to thirty - with smaller family groups existing within these flocks. They spend most of their days foraging for food or roosting high up in the canopies of forests. Several of them may share one tree cavity for roosting and sleeping in. To accommodate several birds in such cramped quarters, they have learned to tuck their tails and beaks under them while sleeping, to create more room for the other birds. The floors of the roosting cavities are often covered with pits from the fruit the toucans have eaten.
Because of their heavy wings they are poor flyers, but they are very agile and mostly move around by hopping from branch to branch.
These toucans are a great asset to the country of Belize, where these stunning birds are a popular tourist attraction; and this species is honored as Belize's national bird.
Distribution / Habitat
Keel-billed Toucans occur naturally in southern Mexico (where they are the only large, naturally occurring toucans), south through most of Central America (Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama) to the northern parts of South America (northern Colombia and extreme northwestern Venezuela). They are resident throughout their range.
They inhabit humid, open rainforests and second growth woodland areas - up to about 6,300 feet (1,900 meters). They may also be found in plantations (mostly cacao and coffee); and in dry forests, however usually along rivers and streams. In Central America, they occur mostly on the wetter Caribbean side; except in northern Costa Rica - where they are found in the forests of the Pacific side. In Panama, they are most common along the entire Caribbean slope, but isolated populations can also be found in the lowlands of the Azuero Peninsula, Pacific Veraguas and Chiriqui.
Even though the Keel-billed Toucans are not currently considered endangered, their existence is threatened by habitat loss and hunting for their meat, ornamental feathers and sport. Additionally, their eggs and young are preyed upon by other birds, weasels, reptiles (snakes), and occasionally monkeys. They are also being captured for the pet market.
Subspecies, Ranges and Identification:
- Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus sulfuratus(Lesson, 1830)- The nominate and northern race
- Range: Southeastern Mexico (states of Puebla, Oaxaca and Veracruz) south through the countries of Belize and northern Guatemala to Honduras.
- ID: Larger in size and the bill is longer. The red coloration on the tip of the bill is more extensive. The throat and foreneck is a paler yellow. This form lacks, or has only very little, red edging to the yellow throat patch (bib).
- Ramphastos sulfuratus brevicarinatus (Gould, 1854) - the southern form
- Range: Found in Central America - from southeastern Guatemala, Belize and Honduras south through Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama ranging into South America - specifically, northern Colombia (Atrato, lower Cauca and lower Magdalena Rivers) and extreme northwestern Venezuela.
- ID: Less intensively red coloring to the tip of the bill. The yellow on the throat and chest are much richer and more orange.
Keel-billed Toucans are amongst the larger
species of toucans. They measure 17 to 22 inches
(42–55 cm) in length - including the oversized, colorful, banana-shaped
beaks, which alone are about 5 - 7.9 inches (12.7 - 20 cm) long and make up
nearly one third of their body length and their long square-shaped
Males average 22 inches (55.4 cm) in length and the smaller
females about 20.4 inches (52 cm); however, their measures overlap with some
individuals. Males also tend to have larger bills. Other than slight size differences, males
and females look alike.
They weigh between 13.4 -17.6 oz (380 - 500
The plumage is mostly black, except for the yellow-green face,
the bright yellow throat and cheeks, vibrant red feathers undertail feathers
(vent), and white rump.
Molt: After each breeding season, all adults undergo the
annual molt during which they replace their plumage with new
The beak is
mostly green, except for an orange patch on each side and yellow markings on
top and a yellow tip. The upper beak (or maxilla) is more extensively red
tipped than the lower beak (or mandible), where some of the red is replaced by
blue. The beak is edged with tooth-like ridges. The tongue is long, narrow and
The eyes (irises) are olive yellow to green and the bare skin surrounding
the eyes is bluish-green.
The legs and toes are grey-blue and the toes
are arranged with two toes forward and two toes back (zygodactyl pattern),
allowing them to easily grip around branches as they hop from one to another.
The wings are wide and short enabling them to fly through trees.
Immature birds have a duller
plumage. The black body feathers of the adult are brownish black in young
birds; and the red chest and undertail feathers (vent) of the adult are also
far duller in the juvenile. There is less maroon on the nape (back of the
neck) and the rest chest bands are more diffused over the black of the lower
chest. Their eyes (irises) are pale grey.
Keel-billed Toucans resemble the Chestnut-mandibled Toucans found in
large part of their range. The Keel-billed Toucans can be identified by their
smaller size and colorful beaks. The Chestnut-mandibled Toucan's bill pattern is diagonally divided into bright
yellow and maroon.
Breeding / Nesting
Toucans are believed to be monogamous as pairs seem to remain together at
least throughout the year.
Mated pairs are often observed in play,
throwing fruit to one another. Males will perform various different vocal and
visual displays, such as head and tail jerking along combined with singing;
and they offer food to the females. Pairs will defend their favored fruiting
trees from other fruit-eating birds. Threat displays and bill clashes ("bill
duets") are observed.
In Costa Rica, most breeding occurs during the
rainy season - between March and June (Skutch 1971); and in Panama during the
dry season in April (Van Tyne 1929).
In favorable conditions, toucans
may produce 2 or 3 broods in a year.
in natural or woodpecker-made cavities in trees, including Inga,
Hura, Pentaclethra macroloba and Cupania. The nests
are usually located at a height of 20 feet (6 meters) and usually have small
Their nests are constructed from palm tree logs and are
not lined, and they are only used for nesting - not for roosting.
However, toucans start nesting up to six weeks before eggs are produced;
probably to secure a safe place for when they are ready to actually start on
the clutch. This is probably necessary due to great competition amongst
toucans for suitable nesting cavities.
Before laying the eggs, the nest
cavity is cleaned out until only a few wood chips are left in the nest lining
the floor. At this point, they will carry small
green leaves into the nest which are
likely to serve as insect repellants. As these leaves dry up, the toucans will
remove them again.
Over time, the nest is lined with numerous seeds and
pits of various sizes (up to the size of large marbles), shapes and colors -
which are a result from toucans disgorging the pits of fruits which form their
Keel-billed Toucans often reuse nests of previous breeding
season, as long as they were able to successfully raise young in them.
The average clutch consists of
2 - 5 (rarely one) glossy white eggs that are round with one end being
slightly more pointed than the other, and are sculptured with irregular pitted
grooves extending lengthwise along the egg. Both parents share equally the
incubation duties taking turns brooding the eggs. The incubation commences
after a clutch is complete (all eggs have been laid).
The young hatch
after about 15 - 20 days of incubation.
Hatchlings: The hatchlings have
closed eyes that won't open for about three weeks; and they are completely
naked without any protective down or feathers. At first pipping (breaking out
of the shell), constantly repeated low rasping, squeaky buzz can be
The chicks have pads on their heel pads that protect their feet
from the pit-covered floor and keep them elevated from the wet floor until
The young are completely dependent on the care of their
parents, and the male and female again take turns feeding fruits to the
chicks; both will keep the nest clean by removing fecal matter from the nest,
and guard and protect the young.
Their beaks are small until they are
about 16 days old at which time they take on the distinguishing "toucan
shape." However, their beaks won't be fully developed until they are about 4
months old. Their eyes are starting to open when they are about 17 days old,
and their squeaky buzz vocalizations at times increase to a loud cry as they
beg to be fed. When they are about 20 days old, their voices change again to a
low harsh zorna, wraa, wraa.
They start exercising (flapping)
their wings when they are about 18 days old to strengthen their wings in
preparation of flight. Their eyes are fully open when they are 30 days old, at
which point they are still featherless, but pinfeathers are starting to show
up along the top of the head. A few days later, feathers are growing out
rapidly all over the body. By the time they are 37 days old, they are fully
Toucan Trivia: Unexpected, Interesting and Fun
Facts about the Toucan Family of Birds
Calls / Vocalizations / Sounds
Their loud calls are described as a series of froglike "crr, crr,
crr" followed by louder "cra, cra, cra" and ending with a a
shrill "cree, cree, cree". The voices of females tend to have higher
pitched. They may sing in duets or several birds may sing in a chorus that is
reminiscent to a pond of frogs. They also produce a low mechanical rattle
vocalizations. Their calls are heard throughout the day.
Toucans are most vocal during the breeding season and in the subsequent period
Hatchlings produce buzzy calls and nestlings whining or wailing sounds as they
beg their parents to feed them.
Chinese: 厚嘴巨嘴鸟 ... Czech:
tukan krátkozobý, Tukan žlutoprsý ... Danish:
Kølnæbbet Tukan ... Dutch: Zwavelborsttoekan ...
Finnish: Rikkitukaani ... French: Toucan à
carène ... German: Fischertukan, Fischer-Tukan ...
Italian: Tucano carenato, Tucano solforato ...
Japanese: sanshokukimuneoohashi ... Norwegian:
Kjølnebbtukan, Regnbuetukan ... Polish: tukan
teczodzioby, tukan tęczodzioby ... Russian: Радужный тукан
... Slovak: tukan žltohrdlý ... Spanish:
Piapoco pico verde, Tucán Caribeño, Tucán de Pico Multicolor, Tucán
Tucán pico de navaja, Tucan Pico Iris, Tucán Pico Iris, Tucán Pico-multicolor,
Tucán Piquiverde ... Swedish: Svaveltukan
Relevant Web Resources
Species Research by Sibylle
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