Bio Facts: Toucan, Swainson’s
Chestnut-mandibled or Swainson's Toucan
Colombia; Costa Rica; Ecuador; Honduras; Nicaragua; Panama
Moist lowland forests
Adult male length: 22 in (56 cm); adult female length: 20.4 in (52 cm); adult weight: 1.32 – 1.64 lbs. (599 -746 g); beak length: 5.9 – 7.9 in (15 – 20 cm); coloration: black with maroon hints to the head, upper back and lower breast. The face and upper breast are bright yellow, with narrow white and broader red lines forming a lower border. The upper tail is white and the lower abdomen is red. The legs are blue. The bill pattern is diagonally divided into bright yellow and maroon. Juvenile birds are sooty-black, and have duller plumage, particularly with respect to the bib, red border, and lower mandible.
Unknown in the wild; up to 18 years in captivity
3 to 4 years
In the wild, they eat primarily fruit, but supplement their diet with insects and occasionally small snakes, lizards and nestling birds; in the Zoo, they are fed a scientifically developed, commercially available diet low in iron and a variety of fruits and vegetables (particular favorites include papaya and grapes).
IUCN – Least Concern
The Swainson’s toucan occupies the canopies of the tropical forests and flies among the clearings or semi-open areas among the trees. Small flocks, usually consisting of 3-12 birds, move through the forest with an undulating flight, rarely traveling more than 328 ft (100 m) at a time. Flocks will follow keel-billed toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus) to exploit their sources of food.
The call of the chestnut-mandibled toucan is a yelping “yo-YIP, a-yip, a-yip”, or a Dios te dé, Dios te dé (Spanish for “God give you…”). It is given to maintain contact as the flock travels in “follow-my-leader” style through the trees, but also in chorus at the evening roosts. The calling bird usually tosses up its head and beak, and along with a side-to-side movement, jerks its head up and moves its tail rapidly up and down. Closer to evening, flocks will gather in trees or on tall dead snags and call in chorus. They will often be answered by another group off in the distance. Along with these calls this toucan has been heard giving off a very loud, rapid pig-like rattle that has been compared to the flapping pages of a heavy book.
The chestnut-mandibled toucan is a resident breeder, and the breeding season occurs from early April to early June. It is believed that toucans are monogamous, at least during the breeding season and while rearing young. The 2-4 white eggs are laid in an unlined cavity high in a decayed section of a living tree, or occasionally in an old woodpecker nest in a dead tree.
Both sexes incubate the eggs for 14–15 days, and the toucan chicks remain in the nest after hatching. They are blind and naked at birth, and have short bills and specialized pads on their heels to protect them from the rough floor of the nest. They are fed by both parents, and fledge after about 6 weeks. By 9 weeks of age the juveniles are self-feeding.
Charles Darwin thought the toucan’s oversized beak was a sexual lure for attracting potential mates, while some modern-day biologists suggested it was either for peeling fruit or to warn off territorial rivals. A new study has found, though, that the outrageously big structure helps to keep the bird cool in the heat of the tropical day. A toucan’s beak has a rich supply of blood vessels running along its surface so the bird’s bill is suited to act as a means of radiating heat to keep the core temperature of the body stable – the bill also accounts for 30% to 50% of the bird’s surface area.
Scientists found that the toucan’s bill in the heat of the day was up to 50°F (10°C) warmer than at sunset. The birds appear to be able to alter the blood flow to their beaks to control the amount of heat being lost or conserved.
Because toucans, like other birds, cannot sweat, this would be a useful way of controlling body temperature. The scientists calculate that the toucan is able to lose as much as four times its resting heat production through its beak – considerably more efficient than the elephant’s ear.
The interior of the beak is rigid “foam” made of bony fibers and drum-like membranes sandwiched between outer layers of keratin, the protein that makes up fingernails, hair, and horn. It is a highly organized matrix of stiff cancellous bone fibers with interconnecting fibers that keeps the beak light weight while giving it additional rigidity.
The large beak has serrated, or toothed, edges that help it to catch, grasp, and even skin whatever the toucan might eat.
Toucans are zygodactylous, having two toes directed backward and two directed forward. This foot design provides strength and stability when moving through dense branches, up and down tree trunks, or in and out of tree cavities.
They have long, narrow, featherlike tongues. Bristles along each side of the tongue help the bird to catch and taste food and then move it down the bird’s throat.
The scientific and common names commemorate William Swainson (8 October 1789 – 6 December 1855), an English ornithologist, malacologist (study of mollusks), conchologist (study of mollusk shells), entomologist and artist.
The ischnoceran louse (Austrophilopterus cancellosus) is suspected to parasitize all species of Ramphastos toucans. Its presence has been confirmed on all species except the citron-throated toucan (Ramphastos (vitellinus) citreolaemus).
Many people relate the name “toucan” to a popular figure on cereal boxes. However, in Central and South America the toucan is not associated with such cheery thoughts. Many tribes in this region believe the toucan to be associated with evil spirits, and it is thought to be the incarnation of a demon. In certain practices the father of a new child must not consume the flesh of a toucan or he may curse the new-born child. There are some positive beliefs associated with this bird too. This animal can be a tribal totem or the medicine man can use it as an incarnation to fly into the spirit world.
This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion. Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion. The population size has not been quantified, but it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion. For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern by the IUCN.
Jacksonville Zoo History:
Historically the Jacksonville Zoo has held at least 15 forms of toucan, aracari, and toucanet that we know about, (we bred the Toco Toucan in 1977). The most recent of the fifteen is the Swainson’s Toucan which arrived in 2006.