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Ramphastos toco

Toco Toucan

  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Ramphastidae
  • Polytypic 2 Subspecies

Authors: Sedgwick, Carolyn W

Life History

Food

Although primarily frugivores, Toco Toucans also commonly eat insects, and the eggs and nestlings of small or medium-sized birds. Among the fruit consumed by these toucans are figs, oranges, guavas, and peppers. Preferred insects include caterpillars and termites. When they predate nests of other birds, they target those of Yellow-rumped Caciques (Cacicus cela) in particular (Short and Horne 2001) but toucans also prey on the nests of of other species of blackbirds (Icteridae) and of flycatchers (Tyrannidae) (Short and Horne 2002). In captivity, Toco Toucans also eat smaller species of birds that enter the aviary, such as thrashers (Toxostoma sp.), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Inca Dove (Columbina inca), Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus), and Gambel's Quail (Callipepla gambelii) (Short and Horne 2001).

Little is known about the metabolism of the Toco Toucan. This species can modify the amount of blood flow to its bill and therefore can use its bill as a thermal radiator to distribute heat away from its body (Tattersall et al. 2009). (This does not imply, however, that the extremely large bills of toucans evolved for the purpose of thermoregulation.)

Behavior

Toco Toucans are most commonly seen flying across rivers or perching in treetops as they feed and often jump or hop from branch to branch. They typically feed in the canopy individually or in small groups but also forage in the understory or on the ground, especially for fallen fruits. Toco Toucans make good use of their bill for many tasks including feeding, defense, courtship, and preening and are capable of hanging mostly upside down and using their bill to reach into difficult areas to obtain fruit (Short and Horne 2001). 

These large toucans alternate between flapping with heavy wingbeats and gliding and their flight is slightly undulating in character. During the day, many species of toucan become inactive and rest periodically in the treetops.

Allopreening between paired mates is common in toucans, as is preening by other members of a group. Preening by others tends to cease once pairs begin to lay eggs (Short and Horne 2001, 2002).

Territoriality

Little information is available about territoriality in wild Toco Toucans; captive birds direct their head and bill at the source of a threat while making a rattling noise (Short and Horne 2001, 2002).

Sexual Behavior

During the breeding season, pairs often tap their bills together or allopreen. In addition, males sometimes cock their tails and fan out the red feathers of their undertail coverts (Short and Horne 2002). The large, brilliantly colored bill of toucans might have a function in courtship displays (Haffer 1974).

Social and interspecific behavior

Toco Toucans are considered less sociable than other toucans (Sick 1993), but sometimes feed in small groups, flying in single file.

Predation

Little information on Toco Toucans. Toucans and aracaris, in general, probably are predated on by monkeys and by large raptors, such as the Ornate Hawk-Eagle (Spizaetus ornatus) (Sick 1993).

Reproduction

Toco Toucans nest in cavities, including natural cavities in hollow palms, in stream banks, and in terrestrial termite nests excavated by Campo Flickers Colaptes campestris (Short and Horne 2001, 2002). In captivity, nests are initially kept clean but later are filled with fruits pits and droppings (Short and Horne 2001). 

Clutches typically consist of 2-4 eggs.  Captive birds can produce multiple broods each year, but little has been reported about multiple breeding attempts from toucans in the wild. The incubation period lasts around 17-18 days with both parents taking turns incubating the eggs (Short and Horne 2001, 2002). Upon hatching, nestlings are fed mostly insects initially and then more fruits as nestlings increase in age. Fledging of chicks occurs after 43-52 days.

Timing of breeding varies significantly with location but breeding periods are described in the following areas by Short and Horne (2001):

-September-January: Amazon and Maranhão

-September-February: São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro,  Parana, and Paraguay

-October-February: eastern Argentina and Rio Grande do Sul

-November-February:  Goiás, Minas Gerais, and Bahia

 -December-June: Bolivia and western Argentina

-May-June: Piauí

Populations and Demography

Several species of chewing lice (Order: Phthiraptera) parasitize Toco Toucans, including Austrophilopterus cancellosus (Weckstein 2004, Price and Weckstein 2005) and Myrsidea witti, a member of the Myrsidea victrix group (Price et al. 2004). Austrophilopterus cancellosus is found on all Ramphastos toucans, while M. witti is known only from R. toco. Phylogenetic data on Austrophilopterus indicate that the A. cancellosus found on R. toco are the same as those found on R. tucanus and R. vitellinus from southern Amazonia (Weckstein 2005). There is no information related to topics such as age at first breeding, life span and survivorship, dispersal, or population regulation.

Recommended Citation

Sedgwick, Carolyn W. 2010. Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=302936