Toucan: Definition, Types, & Examples

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Toucan Definition

Toucan is tropical bird belongs to the family Ramphastidae and order Piciformes. They are frugivores and have a life span of 20 years usually found in montane forests or lowlands. Their common predators include snakes, cats and monkeys.

What is Toucan?

Toucans are a colourful group distributed around forests of Central America, southern Mexico, and South America. The toucan family includes 40 species of birds that are characterized by their colourful big beaks.

This family comprises the araçaris, toucans, and toucanets. The araçaris genus is characterized by contrastingly patterned beaks and colourful plumage. They comprise medium-sized toucans. The toucanets include 2 genera that comprise relatively small toucans that have differing plumage.

In one genus, the toucans are sexually dimorphic, and the plumage colours and patterns differ in sexes, while in the other they have characteristic green plumage. The toucans also include 2 genera that occupy different habitats. One genus predominantly occupies the highland forests of Andes mountains and are multicolored medium-sized birds.

While the other genus has large-sized toucans that are distributed in lowland areas and have black plumage. Toco toucan is the most known toucan species in the world and can be found in savannahs, forest patches and other areas with open woodlands. They comprise the only species in toucans that are not forest-dwelling.

Toucan Behaviour and Ecology

Toucans exist in groups of 20 or more as they are social birds. They use a range of sounds to communicate with each other to warn off danger or to signal them towards good foraging areas. They are described as extremely noisy and are monogamous. Their breeding season is spring when the pairs segregate from their flocks and return with their chicks after spring. They breed and lay up to 2-4 at a time.

The parent birds exhibit parental care, the newborns are completely dependent on their parents as their eyes are closed and they have no feathers. After 3 weeks, feathers start to emerge and they can open their eyes at this period. In the next, 6-8 weeks they will grow their beaks. Toucans inhabit the holes made by other birds like woodpeckers or in natural cavities of tree branches.

Toucans can fit into small tree holes even though they have long tails and big beaks which can be large enough as their bodies. The tails are actually attached to the spine by a ball and socket joint that helps in the flipping of tails over the head to fit into small holes.

Toucans are largely frugivores but they can also feed on amphibians, insects and small reptiles. They consume unhatched eggs and chicks of the nests they plunder. This helps them to get more nutrition that is critical for developing young girls. They move in different directions near Andes mountain to search for food, but generally do not migrate.

Fun Facts about Toucans

Their characteristics like bright plumage and large beaks may be the result of their adaptations.

i. A Multipurpose Beak

The beaks may appear large, compared with the body ratio. They are composed of keratins bony fibres that make them lightweight. Despite the various hypothesis about the selective advantage provided by the toucan beaks, growing one is energy-intensive.

It is speculated that these large beaks help them to forage without moving their bodies much and thus helps to conserve energy. This also increases their efficiency of picking up resources like food from deep holes or tree cavities. The bright colouration of beaks may serve to attract the other species for courtship rituals and can also aid the birds to identify their species.

This bright beak may also ward off predators or other birds. They have also are important in thermoregulation as the birds can regulate blood flow to beaks. They can increase the flow to help with heat loss or decrease the flow when they need to conserve heat. Thus, they act as efficient thermal windows to dissipate or conserve heat according to the requirement.

Researches are still finding the major driving force behind the evolution of the toucan beak. A number of factors may have contributed to its evolution like recognition of species, foraging abilities, avoiding predators, and thermoregulation.

ii. Seeing Double

There is a striking similarity between hornbill and toucans but they differ in respect to their native places. Hornbills are found in Africa and Asia, while toucans are distributed around America.

The 2 birds share similar adaptations and are closely related due to convergent evolution as a result of facing similar selective pressures. These analogous features can not be traced back to their common ancestor, but rather they evolved independently in their lineages after the split to fill their shared niches.

iii. Poor Fliers

But despite the various advantages that the huge beaks offer, it makes them poor fliers as along with a large beak they have short wings and long tails. The result is the emergence of adaptations that help them to move with employing their wings much. One such adaptation is their strong short legs. 

Toucans have 2 toes pointing forward and 2 toes pointing backwards, similar to woodpeckers. This toes structure helps them to grip effectively to the branches making them stable, gives them strength during different movements. They cannot fly large distances due to their poor flight abilities.

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