Keel-billed Toucan

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Is the Keel-billed Toucan right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Keel Bill Toucan; Bill Bird; Rainbow-billed Toucan

Scientific name: Ramphastos sulfuratus

The basics:
The Keel-billed Toucan is one of the most beloved toucans of Central America, These intelligent birds love to play and learn tricks, making them a highly coveted pet for the serious owner who can afford to provide for their specialized and somewhat expensive needs.

There are two subspecies of the widespread Keel-billed Toucan, which ranges from southern Mexico through Central America and as far south as Colombia and Venezuela in South America. They prefer warm moist forests, mostly in lowlands, but also at elevations up to almost 2,000 meters. They can be bold. In addition to appearing at bird tables to help themselves to fruit treats, there are reports of the birds approaching people for goodies at outdoor restaurants. Although they are well-liked as pets in their native land, they may face an even larger threat from the removal of forests for the lumber industry and for agriculture.

Keel-billed Toucans are widely noted for their large, multi-colored bills, which shows nicely against its mostly black body and attractive yellow face, throat, and breast. Males are a bit bigger than the females, but they're both impressive specimens.

380 - 500 grams (13 - 17.5 oz.)

Average size:
49 - 51 centimeters (19 - 20 in.)

15 - 20 years

Behavior / temperament:
A hand-fed Keel-billed Toucan makes an affectionate, attention-seeking pet that loves to play. 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 Keel-bill will easily learn. They also love to splash and bathe.

A breeding pair of Keel-billed Toucans can become aggressive, and they should not be housed with other species.

Keel-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 Keel-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 quarters. 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, Keel-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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