Toco Toucan

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Is the Toco Toucan right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Common Toucan; Giant Toucan

Scientific name: Ramphastos toco

The basics:
The Toco Toucan, the largest of the toucans, is also the top performing toucan. This highly coveted, extremely intelligent bird can be a wonderful pet for the experienced bird owner who can provide for its special diet, offer plenty of space, and allow the toucan plenty of interaction with the family. They also make a fine display in a large well-planted aviary with no companions, but they are too large and too aggressive to be a good candidate for the mixed-species aviary.

There are two subspecies of the iconic and widespread Toco, which is often associated with the South American lowlands but which can also occur as high as 1,750 meters. They have been guilty of stealing baby birds and eggs for food, and smaller cavity-nesting birds don't seem to particularly appreciate them, but the overwhelming majority of their wild diet does seem to be fruits, especially wild figs.

The Toco Toucan's black and white plumage may also be the most elegant of the toucan species. The main body color is deep black, which contrasts nicely with the broad, snow-white chest and rump. The mostly orange bill is tipped with a teardrop shaped black mark on the upper mandible, but it stands out mostly because it seems so huge even in comparison to the bird's already large body. The females are somewhat smaller than the males.

500 - 875 grams (18 - 31 oz.)

Average size:
55 - 65 centimeters (21.5 - 25.5 in.)

20 years

Behavior / temperament:
Despite the intimidating beak, a Toco Toucan that has been hand-fed or trained from an early age by humans can be a gentle, intelligent, and trustworthy pet. They are the toucan of choice for performing birds, and professionals have taught them to fly free and return. We don't recommend free-flying your pet without hands-on training from an extremely experienced and knowledgeable trainer, but we mention it so that you will understand the mental capacity of these marvelous birds. Playing catch is an easier, almost natural trick, and virtually anyone will be able to teach their tame Toco Toucan to catch grapes or birdie balls in mid-air.

Warning: They can also catch small finches in mid-air, and they won't understand that they have done anything wrong. A single pet should not be kept with smaller birds, and a pair should be given their own private (and very spacious) breeding quarters.

Toco Toucans present a challenge as a house pet because of their size and diet. A single pet Toco Toucan 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 Toco's 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 Toco 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, Toco 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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