Channel-billed Toucan

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Is the Channel-billed Toucan right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Channel Bill Toucan

Scientific name: Ramphastos vitellinus vitellinus

The basics:
The species known to ornithologists as the Channel-billed Toucan, Ramphastos vitellinus, currently lumps together at least three former species, including the Yellow-ridged Toucan and the Citron-throated Toucan. The bird known to aviculturists as the Channel-billed Toucan is the nominate subspecies, R. v. vitellinus. This subspecies is relatively well-known as a pet and aviary specimen, so that's the subspecies we'll be discussing here. Like all toucans, they have special care requirements, so they are generally only recommended to people who have plenty of space and experience.

The Channel-billed Toucan species is found over a large area of tropical forest in South America. The Channel-billed Toucan subspecies is the northeastern subspecies, and it may be found in eastern Venezuela, northeastern Brazil, and the Guyanas.

The Channel-billed Toucan is a black-backed toucan with a striking black bill with a blue band at the base, paired with more blue around the eyes. The throat and sides of the breast are snow-white, but the broad central area of the chest yellow-orange. As with most toucans, the males are larger and have longer bills.

350 grams (12.3 oz.)

Average size:
48 centimeters (19 in.)

15 - 20 years

Behavior / temperament:
In the wild, Channel-billed Toucans are intimidated by bigger black-backed toucans, and it goes without saying that they should never be housed with a bigger “buddy.” A pair should have its own well-planted, spacious aviary to allow it to breed without dining on your smaller birds or being dominated by larger ones.

Like the other toucans, Channel-bills are playful and intelligent, and birds hand-fed or handled by humans from an early age make affectionate pets. They are highly social and would almost never be alone in the wild, so do not isolate a single pet toucan. Be willing to spend plenty of time playing with your bird. Teaching it to play catch for grapes or with a toy ball for birdies is an easy trick that almost every Channel-bill will easily learn. They also love to splash and bathe.

Channel-billed Toucans present a challenge as a house pet because of their size and diet. A single pet cannot be left isolated and alone, yet they have liquid squirtable feces, and they must be able to exercise by flying and jumping, not by flying, so they need a great deal of horizontal space. You may have to special order the very large and long cage, or you may even have to have it special built. You will also need to construct or choose the cage area with an eye toward easy cleaning. Where will you spend the most time playing with your bird? If there's carpet in that area, you will probably want to consider removing the carpet and replacing it with something easy to clean like quarry tile before your pet arrives.

A pair of Channel-billed Toucans should be the only inhabitants of a large, well-planted aviary equipped with a sizable nesting log. An aviary that gives them access to natural sunlight should allow the birds to show very well, but you will need to also provide shelter from very strong direct sunlight, cold, and damp. In a hot, dry climate such as the American southwest, misters should be installed to cool down the flight during heat advisories. In a cooler climate, there should be access to snug winter qurters. Build with an eye to keeping out mosquitoes, predators, and even thieves. A baby monitor or security web-cam might be worth considering in order to deter the covetous from trying to walk off with your birds.

Like the other toucans, Channel-billed Toucans must be fed carefully to prevent the development of iron storage disease, which can cause sudden death. The backbone of the diet is fruit -- 70% papaya, 20% bananas, 5% grapes and 5% blueberries. The mix of fruit is not set in stone, and if papaya is not available, then cantaloupe can be used. Many other fruits can also be added to the mix. However, because citrus fruit may promote the storage of iron in the body, avoid oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, and other citrus. Pineapple and tomato also contain citric acid, so they should be avoided as well.

Softbill pellets should be a low iron variety developed specifically for toucans that has NO propylene glycol. Mazuri Low Iron Softbill Diet is a highly regarded pellet that fills these specifications. Insects and pinkie mice, which you will see recommended in older diets, should not be given except on advice of an expert breeder or avian vet. Fresh water should be available at all times, including a shallow pan for splashing and bathing.

Written by Elaine Radford

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