Red-billed Toucan

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Is the Red-billed Toucan right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: White-throated Toucan

Scientific name: Ramphastos tucanus

The basics:
The Red-billed Toucan is a fairly widespread South American large toucan that can make a wonderful pet for the highly experienced bird owner who can provide its special diet, offer lots of space, and schedule lots of playtime with the pet. Red-bills also make a fine display in a large well-planted aviary with no companions other than their own mate, but they are too large and too aggressive to be a good candidate for the mixed-species aviary.

Cuvier's and Red-billed Toucans have sometimes been lumped together as two subspecies of R. tucanus in the past. While the debate may continue among ornithologists, for all practical purposes, it is easy to separate them at a glance, and there is never any reason to accidentally hybridize the two birds. The Red-bill is an adaptable species of lowland tropical forests but, like all toucans, it nests in cavities, making it vulnerable to excessive logging of old trees.

Cuvier's Toucan (R. Cuvieri), the Red-bill's close cousin, also has the bright white bib on a black body, but the two species are easily distinguished by a glance at their bills. As the name suggests, a large portion of the Red-bill's upper and lower mandibles are marked a deep red or maroon color. The same areas of the Cuvier's bill are black.

553 grams (19.5 oz.)

Average size:
57 centimeters (22.4 in.)

15 years

Behavior / temperament:
They're rare and hard to find in captivity, but a hand-fed Red-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 Red-bill will easily learn. They also love to splash and bathe.

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

Red-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 custom 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 replace it with something easy to clean like quarry tile before your pet arrives.

A pair of Red-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, Red-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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