name = Toucan

image_caption = Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)
image_width = 250px
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Chordata
classis = Aves
ordo = Piciformes
familia = Ramphastidae
familia_authority = Vigors, 1825
subdivision_ranks = Genera
subdivision = "Andigena"

Toucans are a family, Ramphastidae, of near-passerine birds from the neotropics (i.e. the Central, South American, and Caribbean region). The family is most closely related to the American barbets. They are brightly marked and have large, colorful bills. The family includes five genera and about forty different species. The name of this bird group is derived from Tupi "tucana", via French.


Toucans range in size from the Lettered Aracari ("Pteroglossus inscriptus"), at 130 g (4.6 oz) and 29 cm (11.5 inches), to the Toco Toucan ("Ramphastos toco"), at 680 g (1.5 lb) and 63 cm (29 inches). Their bodies are short (of comparable size to a crow's) and compact. The tail is rounded and varies in length, from half the length to the whole length of the body. The neck is short and thick. The wings are small, as they are forest-dwelling birds who only need to travel short distances, and are often of about the same span as the bill-tip-to-tail-tip measurements of the bird.

The legs of a toucan are strong and rather short. Their toes are arranged in pairs with the first and fourth toes turned backward. The majority of toucans do not show any sexual dimorphism in their coloration, the genus "Selenidera" being the most notable exception to this rule (hence their common name, "dichromatic toucanets"). However, the bills of female toucans are usually shorter, deeper and sometimes straighter, giving more of a "blocky" impression compared to male bills. The feathers in the genus containing the largest toucans are generally black, with touches of white, yellow, and scarlet. The underparts of the araçaris (smaller toucans) are yellow, crossed by one or more black or red bands. The toucanets have mostly green plumage with blue markings.

The colorful, giant bill, which in some large species measure more than half the length of the body, is the hallmark of toucans. Despite its size it is very light, being composed of bone struts with little solid material between them. The bill has forward-facing serrations resembling teeth, which historically led naturalists to believe that toucans captured fish and were primarily carnivorous, but today we know that they eat mostly fruit. Why the bill is so large and brightly colored is still debated and may be complex. As there is no sexual dimorphism in coloration it is unlikely to be a sexual signal; It does aid in their feeding behavior (as they sit in one spot and reach for all fruit in range, thereby reducing energy expenditure). It has also been theorised that the bill may intimidate smaller birds, so that the toucan may plunder nests undisturbed (see Behaviour). Also, the beak allows the bird to reach deep into treeholes to access food unavailable to other birds, and also to depredate suspended nests built by smaller birds.

A toucan's tongue is long (up to 14-15 cm, or 6 inches), narrow, grey, and singularly frayed on each side, adding to its sensitivity as an organ of taste.

A structural complex probably unique to toucans involves the modification of several tail vertebrae. The rear three vertebrae are fused and attached to the spine by a ball-and-socket joint. Because of this, toucans may snap their tail forwards until it touches the head. [Reynolds, J. (2002) "Book Review: Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 7. Jacamars to Woodpeckers Edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott and Jordi Sargatal. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, 2002. ISBN 84-87334-377. 613 pages." Biological Conservation" 111 (2): 280-281 [] ] This is the posture in which they sleep, often appearing simply as a ball of feathers, with the tip of the tail sticking out over the head.


Toucans are primarily frugivorous (fruit eating), but are opportunistically omnivorous and will take prey such as insects and small lizards. [Remsen, J.V. Remsen, Jr.; Hyde M.A. & A. Chapman. (1993) "The Diets of Neotropical Trogons, Motmots, Barbets and Toucans" "The Condor" 95 (1): 178-192] Captive toucans have been reported to actively hunt insects in their cages, and it is possible to keep toucans on an insect-only diet. They also plunder nests of smaller birds, taking eggs and nestlings. [Robinson, S.K. (1985) "Coloniality in the Yellow-Rumped Cacique as a Defense against Nest Predators" "Auk" 10 (3): 506-519] This probably provides a crucial addition of protein to their diet. However, in their range, toucans are the dominant frugivores, and as such play an extremely important ecological role as vectors for seed dispersal of fruiting trees. [Pizo, M.A.; Donatti, C.I.; Guedes, N.M.R. & M. Galetti (2008) "Conservation puzzle: Endangered hyacinth macaw depends on its nest predator for reproduction" "Biological Conservation" 141 (3): 792-796 doi|10.1016/j.biocon.2007.12.023]

Toucans are arboreal and typically lay 2–4 white eggs in their nests. They make their nests in already-existing treeholes like natural cavities and holes excavated by other animals such as woodpeckers - the toucan bill has very limited use as an excavation tool. When the eggs hatch, the young emerge completely naked, without any down. Toucans are resident breeders and do not migrate. Toucans are usually found in pairs or small flocks. They sometimes fence with their bills and wrestle, which scientists hypothesize they do to establish dominance hierarchies.

ystematic list

* Genus "Aulacorhynchus" - green toucanets (6-13 species, depending on taxonomy)
* Genus "Selenidera" - dichromatic toucanets (6 species)
* Genus "Andigena" - mountain toucans (4 species)
* Genus "Pteroglossus" - araçaris (14 species, incl. Saffron Toucanet)
* Genus "Ramphastos" - typical toucans (about 8 species)

In Aztec Mythology

The ancient Aztecs believed that the toucan's beak was created from rainbows. It was said to be the toucans' reward for being messengers of the gods. The Aztecs would perform ancient rituals worshiping the toucans, believing that because their beak was created from rainbows, that the gods would grant them rain. The ritual involved a member of the chosen family to wear a headress of toucan feathers, and plead the toucan for rain. If rain did not come within three days, (according to the Aztec Calendar,) it would be offered back to the gods on a pyre with a ceremonial burning.Fact|06:24, 23 September 2008 (UTC)|date=September 2008


External links

* [ Extensive Gallery on Toucans]
* [ List of Toucans]
* [ Gallery of Toucans]
* [ Toucan videos] on the Internet Bird Collection

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • toucan — [ tukɑ̃ ] n. m. • 1557; mot tupi (Brésil) ♦ Oiseau frugivore (rhamphastidés) au plumage éclatant, à bec énorme, qui vit dans les régions montagneuses de l Amérique du Sud. ● toucan nom masculin (tupi tucano) Assez petit oiseau (rhamphastidé) des… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • toucan — bright colored bird of S.America, 1560s, from Fr. toucan (1550s) and Sp. tucan; from Tupi (Brazil) tuka, tukana, probably imitative of its call …   Etymology dictionary

  • Toucan — Tou can (t[=oo] k[a^]n; 277), n. [F., fr. Pg. tucano; from Brazilian name. ] 1. (Zo[ o]l.) Any one of numerous species of fruit eating birds of tropical America belonging to {Ramphastos}, {Pteroglossus}, and allied genera of the family… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • toucan — ► NOUN ▪ a tropical American fruit eating bird with a massive bill and brightly coloured plumage. ORIGIN Tupi …   English terms dictionary

  • toucan — [to͞o′kan΄, to͞o′kän΄, to͞o′kən; to͞o kan′, to͞okän′] n. [Fr < Port tucano < Tupí tucana: echoic of its cry] any of a family (Ramphastidae) of brightly colored, fruit eating piciform birds of tropical America, distinguished by a very large… …   English World dictionary

  • Toucan — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Toucan (homonymie). Nom vernaculaire ou nom normalisé ambigu : Le terme « Toucan » s applique en français à plusieurs taxons distincts …   Wikipédia en Français

  • toucan — /tooh kan, kahn, tooh kahn /, n. 1. any of several usually brightly colored, fruit eating birds of the family Ramphastidae, of tropical America, having a very large bill. 2. (cap.) Astron. the constellation Tucana. [1550 60; < F < Pg tucano <… …   Universalium

  • toucan — (tou kan) s. m. 1°   Gros et bel oiseau du Brésil, dont les couleurs sont d une variété admirable. Gorges de toucan. 2°   Nom d une constellation de l hémisphère austral. HISTORIQUE    XVIe s. •   Il a veu aux terres neufves un oiseau que les… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • toucan — UK [ˈtuːkən] / US [ˈtuˌkæn] noun [countable] Word forms toucan : singular toucan plural toucans a large, brightly coloured bird with a large curved beak that lives in tropical America …   English dictionary

  • toucan — tikrieji tukanai statusas T sritis zoologija | vardynas atitikmenys: lot. Ramphastos angl. toucan vok. Tukan, m rus. тукан, m pranc. toucan, m ryšiai: platesnis terminas – tukaniniai siauresnis terminas – arielis siauresnis terminas –… …   Paukščių pavadinimų žodynas

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