Also known as sulfur-breasted toucans, keel-billed toucans are easily recognized by their eye-catching plumage and huge, colorful bill. Their enormous beaks are actually hollow and lightweight, and useful for plucking and swallowing fruit. Social and playful, these birds are some of the noisiest in the jungle, with croak-like calls that can be heard nearly half a mile away.
What They Eat
Keel-billed toucans are mostly frugivorous. They eat fruits and seeds. In Belize, toucans consume fruits from fig, trumpet tree, copal, wild cherry and bread nut. They frequent the trumpet and fig trees almost twice as often as the other tree types. They use their dexterous bills to pick the fruit, then toss their head back and swallow it whole.
Keel-billed toucans also supplement their diets with occasional animal protein from snakes, small lizards and insects such as beetles, cicadas and ants. They also sometimes prey on eggs and nestlings of smaller birds.
Where They Live
Keel-billed toucans make their homes in the holes of trees, often living in tight quarters with several family members sharing one hole. They can be found in the canopies of subtropical and lowland rainforests from southern Mexico to Venezuela and Columbia.
What They Do
Toucans live and travel in flocks of 6-12 birds. If tree cavities are limited, families conserve space by tucking in their tails and beaks and crowding into the same hole. Females lay one to four eggs and both parents take turns incubating the eggs. Toucans are poor flyers and move mostly by hopping from branch to branch in trees.
How They’re Doing
Although numbers might be declining, the IUCN Red List status of the keel-billed toucan is assessed as Least Concern because of the large population size and large range. Some local populations are in decline because of habitat loss, and from being hunted and taken as pets.
- Keel-billed toucans are common in the country of Belize and have been chosen as the country’s national bird.
- Fruit-eating toucans are important to rain forest health and diversity. They pass seeds from the fruit they eat through their digestive systems unharmed, “planting” them in other parts of the forest.
- Toucans are often compared to another family of tropical birds, the hornbills, but they are actually close relatives of woodpeckers!
- Despite his rainbow-colored beak and love for fruit, “Toucan Sam”, the cartoon character used to advertise Fruit Loops cereal, most closely resembles a keel-billed toucan. Originally, he was modeled after a toco toucan.
The main threat to these toucans is the loss of their rainforest habitat. Hunting for meat and feathers for ornamental purposes continues to be a problem as well. Keel-billed toucans used to be highly sought after for the pet trade, but captive breeding for this purpose has greatly decreased the number of wild birds being captured.
Things the Zoo's Done/Doing
In zoos, keel-billed toucans are managed under the Keel-billed Toucan Species Survival Plan (SSP) to increase successful breeding and improve the genetics of the captive population. The Minnesota Zoo continues to try to successfully breed Keel-billed toucans and hopes to add young toucans to the SSP soon.