The Toco Toucan is the largest and best-known species of toucan found in the tropical forests of South America. It is one of the most popular birds in the world and owes its fame to its impressive colorful beak.
For the peoples of South America, toco toucans hold great significance. Their images are placed on tribal totems, and some natives believe they help the spirits of the dead fly to the afterlife.
It is also called the giant toucan, and common toucan.
It inhabits semi-open areas of French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and northern Argentina. Unlike other members of the genus Ramphastos, it is essentially a non-forest species. It can be found in a variety of habitats; these are mainly sparse forests (it avoids dense forests), savannas and steppes.
It is primarily a lowland species, but is found as high as 1,750 meters near the Andes in Bolivia.
The first is Ramphastos toco toco, found in Guyana, French Guiana, Suriname, northern and northeastern Brazil, and southeastern Peru.
The second subspecies is Ramphastos toco albogularis, found in eastern and southern Brazil, northern Bolivia, Paraguay and northern Argentina.
It has contrasting plumage, mostly black. The throat, upper chest, and rump are white, and the underparts are red. The tail of the toco toucan is rounded, and the legs are gray. Toco toucans have a blue eye socket surrounded by another ring of orange skin. The iris is brownish.
Their body is about 55-63 cm long and weighs about 592-760 g. Juveniles have a shorter, yellowish bill without a dark spot at the end.
The species was first described by the German zoologist Philipp Ludwig Statius Müller in 1776.
Beak is yellow-orange in color, tending to a deeper reddish-orange in the lower parts, with a black base and a large spot on the tip. The bill measures 15.8 to 23 centimeters (6 to 9 inches) and accounts for nearly one-third of the bird's length. It makes up 30 to 50% of its body surface area, although the Sword-billed hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) has a longer beak relative to its body length (the only bird whose beak is longer than the rest of its body, excluding the tail).
The beak looks heavy, but like those of other toucans, it is relatively light because its interior is largely hollow. It has an openwork structure made up of a network of bony beams.
Various functions of the beak have been proposed. Charles Darwin believed that it was a sexual ornament. Other suggestions include helping to peel fruit, intimidating other birds that rob their nests or defend their territory, or as a visual warning to a potential enemy.
However, research has shown that the only function is heat exchange. With a network of superficial blood vessels supporting a thin keratinized sheath on its beak, it has the ability to modify blood flow and thus regulate heat distribution in the body - it can be used as a radiator. The beak of the toco toucan has been compared to the ears of an elephant in terms of its ability to radiate heat. The ability to radiate heat depends on the air velocity; if it is low, only 25% of the resting heat of an adult bird is radiated; if it is high, the emission is four times higher.
The practice of toco toucans is to place their beaks under their wings, which can serve to insulate the beak and reduce heat loss during sleep.
The large size of their bill allows them to split larger seeds and easily grab fruits, vegetables, insects, eggs, and small birds. The longer beak also allows them to pluck fruit from the tops of branches without leaving a stable position on another branch.
The toucan's beak is equipped with knife-like "teeth" that allow it to easily tear food and peel fruit.
They nest seasonally. The nest is usually high in a tree and consists of a cavity, at least part of which is hollowed out by the intending birds (they usually use cavities abandoned by other birds). Nesting in holes on the ground and in termite mounds has also been reported.
When they go to sleep, they turn their heads so that their beaks are on their backs, then cover themselves with their long tails - they look like balls of feathers. This allows 5-6 adult birds to fit into the hollow.
The laying of eggs is preceded by a period of courtship in which fruits are thrown at each other. The female usually lays two to four eggs a few days after mating.
They do not open their eyes until they are three weeks old. The chicks have special pads on the bottom of their feet to protect them from the uneven ground of the nest. These disappear when they reach maturity. Toco toucans are very protective of their young. Chicks leave the nest after 46-50 days.
They reach sexual maturity between their third and fourth year.
In captivity, toco toucans live shorter lives, about 18 years, and often suffer from hemochromatosis (a disorder of iron metabolism).
Graphic artist John Gilroy's illustration of a toucan balancing on a glass of the brewery's product was first used in an advertisement in 1935.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature has recognized them as a species of least concern (LC), continuously since 1988.
Virtually every major zoo in the world has toco toucans. They are a great attraction for zoos and are not particularly demanding birds. They are also often owned by private breeders. Raised from a chick, the toucan quickly becomes domesticated and rivals the intelligence of large parrot species.
Watching a toucan eat can be very interesting, as these birds have a habit of tossing food in the air and catching it in flight with their powerful beaks.
They believe toucans help the spirits of the dead enter the afterlife. There is also a belief that these birds are associated with evil powers, so the father of a newborn child must not eat toucan meat, as it could bring a curse on the offspring.
Tribal totems often include images of the toco toucan.