Swainson's Toucan

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Is the Swainson's Toucan right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Chestnut-mandible Toucan

Scientific name: Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii

The basics:
The second-largest of the toucans, Swainson's Toucan is an impressive bird indeed. Hand-fed Swainson's Toucans are well-regarded for their intelligence and their eagerness to learn and perform tricks like “catch” for their owners. However, like all toucans, they have special care requirements, so they are generally only recommended to people who have plenty of space and experience.

The lumpers have been busy in the world of toucan taxonomy, and in a very recent change, not yet accepted by everyone, the Swainson's Toucan has been classed as a subspecies of the Yellow-throated Toucan. The new scientific name for the Swainson's Toucan subspecies is Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii. This tropical toucan of the moist forests is the familiar large and somewhat noisy subspecies found broadly across Central America, but it occurs some distance into northern South America as well. It will challenge and intimidate smaller black-backed toucans, such as the Keel-billed Toucan.

Swainson's Toucan is a large, impressive black-backed toucan. The two-toned bill is especially distinctive, with the long triangular sweep of yellow on the upper mandible, which contrasts boldly with the deep chestnut color of the remainder. The yellow face, neck, and breast contrast nicely with the overall black body. Males are bigger and longer-billed than females.

580 - 750 grams (20.5 - 26.5 oz.)

Average size:
47 - 61 centimeters (18.5 - 24 in.)

20 - 25 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Swainson's Toucan by any name is a coveted pet and aviary bird. A pair shows well in its own well-planted aviary, although they are too aggressive to be housed with other birds. They may not be as easy to breed as some of the smaller aracaris or toucanets, but the knowledgeable breeder willing to provide the proper conditions has a reasonable expectation of success.

Swainson's Toucans 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 Swainson's will easily learn. They also love to splash and bathe.

Swainson's 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 Swainson's 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, Swainson's 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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