Toucan Barbet

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Vince Smith

Is the Toucan Barbet right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Toucan-billed Barbet

Scientific name: Semnornis ramphastinus

The basics:
The rare but attractive Toucan Barbet is an interesting species for softbill experts with plenty of room to set up a spacious aviary. A bird of the subtropical mountain forests found in a small region of the western Andes in Colombia and Ecuador, this softbill is rated as a “near threatened” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) because 40% of its habitat has already been affected by clearing or logging. Where the forest remains, the species is threatened by illegal collection for pets and also by competition for nestholes by the aggressive, much larger Plate-billed Mountain Toucan.

Although traditionally considered a barbet, the Toucan Barbet's taxonomy and family relationships are under some debate. They may, in fact, be more closely related to the toucans than to the familiar Old World barbets.

While theToucan Barbet's stubby bill is not particularly toucan-like, the primitive look of their chubby, color-blocked body might vaguely remind you of an aracari. The black face features a whitish eyebrow almost long enough to be considered an ear tuft. The bib and sides of the face are silver, the breasts crimson, and the undertail and rump are yellow. The sexes are much alike.

85 - 110 grams (3 - 4 oz.)

Average size:
20 - 22 centimeters (8 - 8.5 in.)

15 years

Behavior / temperament:
At least one case of breeding season aggression may have occurred in the past. Be sure that the aviary is spacious, with plenty of cover, to give the female Toucan Barbet room to get away if her mate becomes too bothersome. Also, while older authors have stated that this species is safe to house in a mixed species aviary, those keepers didn't always have much luck breeding the bird. Considering its rarity, it seems wise to provide it with the security and privacy of its own breeding quarters.

One of the calls of the Toucan Barbet is worth noting, especially if a pair or flock begins to duet, because it resembles the sound of popcorn being popped.

Toucan Barbets are normally housed in pairs in well-planted aviaries that include a nestlog. Most barbets dislike the cold, but it's worth noting that, as a mountain species, the Toucan Barbet isn't heat tolerant either, so this species is recommended for warm, dry, climate-controlled bird rooms where they may enjoy their own quarters. Always have a shallow dish to allow them to bathe after eating, and design the birdroom with a view toward making it easy to keep clean.

The Toucan Barbet follows a pattern seen among many softbilled birds. Although mostly frugivorous as an adult, it will feed insect food to bring up its youngsters. However, the fruit taken in the wild tends to be a very rich, calorie dense wild fig, so they cannot be maintained on a diet of chopped fruit alone, since most available fruits are too high in water relative to their wild diet. Breeders have succeeded with a diet that includes a chopped fruit salad, a low iron softbill pellet, and some addition of live insects, especially during the breeding season. When making the chopped salad, be sure to include plenty of soaked raisins, figs, and similar nutrient-dense fruits, in addition to standards like apple, pear, banana, grape, cherry, and so on.

Don't try to take any shortcuts with the pellets. You should not substitute pellets designed for parrots, much less dog biscuits. Toucan Barbets are considered to be at risk for iron storage disease, so they should be offered only a high quality, well-regarded low iron pellet intended specifically for at risk softbills. For the same reason, since citric acid helps the body store iron, you should probably avoid using any citrus fruits, pineapples, or tomatoes in the fruit salad.

Written by Elaine Radford

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