Keel-billed Toucan Ramphastos sulfuratus

  • Order: Piciformes
  • Family: Ramphastidae
  • Polytypic: 2 subspecies
  • Authors: Revee Jones and Carole S. Griffiths



Time Budget

Among five categories of behavior, toucans in Mexico were observed to spend approximately equal amounts of time perching and foraging (35% to 40%); calling, preening, and social interaction (displacement by another bird or direct bill contact between birds) each occupied 10% or less of the birds' activity (Graham 2001).


The flight is slow and undulating, consisting of rapid wing beats (six to ten), then a glide with the bird's beak extending forward and dipping downward as though pulling the rest of the bird (Van Tyne 1929, Skutch 1971). Their feet are drawn up forward in flight (Van Tyne 1929).

Flight distances typically are short, in the open across streams or small clearings (Van Tyne 1929, Wetmore 1968). They may travel in small parties of up to a dozen individuals. This appears to be uncoordinated, with one bird following another, straggling along single-file (Skutch 1971)

Although Van Tyne (1929) and Skutch (1971) describe them as weak flyers, Wetmore (1968) maintains that this is a misconception and they can easily travel between distant ridges.


A small flock of eight to ten toucans will fly into a particular tree in the early morning. They straggle in one or two at a time. Individual toucans will then move with long bouncing leaps out to the outermost branch that will bear its weight. It will stay in this position, clinging to the branch and reaching out in all directions to grab fruit (Van Tyne 1929).


Toucans gather in small groups of from 6 to 22 chasing one another from branch to branch. They 'play ball', one throwing a fruit in the air and a second seizing it. One toucan would take another toucan's bill in its mouth and begin a pushing match. They also fence with their bills (Van Tyne 1929).

Sexual Behavior

Pairs are monogamous.  Male courtship can involve a variety of different vocal and visual displays, some of which are head and tail jerking along with singing. Males will also court females by offering food (nuptial feeding, Skutch 1971).

Social and interspecific behavior

Keel-billed Toucans forage in groups of up to 10 to 20 individuals (Van Tyne 1929). They also form mixed species foraging groups.  In instances where Keel-billed Toucans and "Chestnut-mandibled Toucans" (Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii) forage together, the larger Chestnut-mandibled Toucans are dominant (Chang et al. 2008).

Groups of Keel-billed Toucans also play (Behavior: Play).


These toucans are most vulnerable when nesting and are target for mammals, snakes, hawks and eagles. For example, they are the most abundant prey item for Black Hawk-Eagles Spizaetus tyrannus (Rangel-Salazar and Enriquez-Rocha 1993).

Recommended Citation

Jones, R. and C. S. Griffiths (2011). Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.