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toucan

toucan (tōōkăn´, tōō´kän), perching bird of the New World tropics, related to the woodpeckers. Toucans vary in size from the jay-sized toucanets to the 24-in. (62-cm) tocos of the Amazon basin. They are notable for their enormous, often brightly colored, canoe-shaped bills, which consist of a lightweight porous substance covered by a horny shell with serrated edges. This bill is well adapted to cutting up the fruits and berries that form their diet. Most brilliantly plumaged are the aracaris and hill toucans of the mountain forests of South America. Toucans are gregarious and, like the woodpeckers, nest in cavities. Toucans are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Piciformes, family Rhamphastidae.

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toucan

toucan Any of 35 species of colourful, gregarious birds of the forests of tropical America, characterized by a large, colourful bill. The plumage is generally red, yellow, blue, black, or orange. It feeds on fruit and berries, which may be regurgitated to feed the young. Length: 60cm (2ft). Family Ramphastidae.

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toucan

tou·can / ˈtoōˌkan; -ˌkän/ • n. a tropical American fruit-eating bird (genera Ramphastos and Andigena, family Ramphastidae) with a massive bill and typically brightly colored plumage.

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toucan

toucan XVI. — Tupi tucana, Guarani tucā, tucā.

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toucans

toucans See PICIFORMES; RAMPHASTIDAE.

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toucan

toucanblacken, bracken, slacken •Sri Lankan •Alaskan, Gascon, Madagascan, Nebraskan •Aachen, darken, hearken, kraken, Marcan, Petrarchan •Interlaken •beckon, Deccan, pekan, reckon •Mencken •awaken, bacon, betaken, forsaken, Jamaican, mistaken, partaken, shaken, taken, waken •godforsaken •archdeacon, beacon, Costa Rican, deacon, Dominican, Mohican, Mozambican, Puerto Rican, weaken •quicken, sicken, stricken, thicken, Wiccan •silken •Incan, Lincoln •brisken, Franciscan •barbican • Rubicon • Gallican •Anglican •Helicon, pelican •basilican, Millikan, silicon •publican • pantechnicon • Copernican •African • American • hurricane •lexicon, Mexican •Corsican • Vatican • liken •Brocken, Moroccan •falcon, Lorcan, Majorcan, Minorcan •Balcon, Balkan •gyrfalcon •awoken, bespoken, betoken, broken, foretoken, oaken, outspoken, plain-spoken, ryokan, spoken, token, woken •heartbroken •Lucan, toucan •Saarbrücken • Buchan • Vulcan •drunken, Duncan, shrunken, sunken •Etruscan, molluscan (US molluskan), Tuscan •Ardnamurchan • lochan

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Toucans

Toucans

Species of toucans

Resources

Toucans are 41 species of familiar, brilliantly colored arboreal birds that make up the family Ramphastidae. Toucans are in the order Piciformes, which also includes the woodpeckers.

Toucans range from southern Mexico to northern Argentina and Paraguay. Their usual habitat is tropical

and subtropical forests and woodlands, and sometimes more open savanna with clumps of trees. Most species occur in lowlands, but some live in higher elevation forests. Toucans are not migratory, although some species may undertake local movements in search of food.

Toucans are relatively large birds, with a body length of 12-24 in (30-61 cm). Their wings are short and rounded, the tail is long and wide, and the legs and feet are stout and strong, with the toes arranged in a zygodactyl pattern (i.e., two facing forward, and two backward).

The most distinctive feature of toucans is their tremendous, seemingly oversized, laterally compressed bill, which in some species is as long as the body. The bill is stout but well-chambered with air-containing cavities, and therefore surprisingly lightweight. The bill curves slightly downward, and often has a serrated inner margin. There is a small hook at the tip of the upper mandible, and the nostrils are placed at the base of the bill, near the head.

The function of the unusually enormous bill of toucans has not been conclusively determined. It may be helpful in plucking fruits that are far away from branches large enough for a toucan to perch on. Alternatively, the large bill may be used to frighten away potential predators, or to intimidate the parents of nestlings or eggs that toucans are preying upon. The bill may also have important social functions, for example, in courtship displays.

The body plumage of toucans is soft, and usually black or dark green, with conspicuous patches of white, yellow, orange, red, or blue. Toucans have bare, brightly colored skin around the eye. The large bill of toucans is brightly colored in most species, and is likely important in species recognition. The sexes of most species do not differ in size or coloration.

Toucans live in small, harshly noisy, often family related groups. They feed together, with an attentive sentry posted to warn against possible intrusions by predators. Toucans mostly eat fruits, insects, and sometimes the eggs or nestlings of other species of birds. They can manipulate their foods quite dexterously, in spite of their huge bill.

Toucans have a repertoire of harsh croaks, yelps, mews, rattles, and other sounds. Some of the larger species give a series of almost musical renditions at dawn, which may function as territorial songs.

Toucans roost and nest in cavities in trees, commonly using abandoned holes excavated by woodpeckers, although these may be further enlarged by the toucans. During roosting, several birds may crowd into the same cavity, and when doing this they commonly fold their tail up over the back to save space. Toucans lay two to four eggs in an unlined nesting cavity as high up a tree as possible. The eggs are incubated by both parents, who also share the chick-rearing duties, which takes about 40-50 days until fledging occurs.

Species of toucans

The largest toucans are those in the genus Ramphastos, which live in lowland, tropical forests. The toco toucan (R. toco ) occurs in tropical Amazonian forests, while the chestnut-mandibled toucan (R. swainsonii ) occurs from Honduras to Venezuela.

Species of aracari toucans (Pteroglossus spp.) are smaller and relatively gregarious. The green aracari (Pteroglossus viridis ) occurs in tropical forests from Venezuela through Brazil.

KEY TERMS

Zygodactyl The specific arrangement of toes of certain birds, in which two toes point forward, and two backward. This is the characteristic arrangement in the Piciformes, including the toucans.

The toucanets are even smaller. The spot-billed toucanet (Selenidera maculirostris ) occurs in forests from Venezuela and Guyana to northern Argentina.

Most species of toucans are less abundant today than they used to be, mostly because of loss of habitat through deforestation. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) considers two toucan species to be near threatened and one species to be endangered.

Resources

BOOKS

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Vol. 7, Jacamars to Woodpeckers. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions, 2002.

Forshaw, Joseph. Encyclopedia of Birds. 2nd ed. New York: Academic Press, 1998.

Short, L.L., and J.F.M. Horner. Toucans, barbets and Honeyguides. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Sick, H. Birds in Brazil: A Natural History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

Bill Freedman

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Toucans

Toucans

Toucans are 42 species of familiar, brilliantly colored arboreal birds that make up the family Ramphastidae. Toucans are in the order Piciformes, which also includes the woodpeckers .

Toucans range from southern Mexico to northern Argentina and Paraguay. Their usual habitat is tropical and subtropical forests and woodlands, and sometimes more open savanna with clumps of trees. Most species occur in lowlands, but some live in higher elevation forests. Toucans are not migratory, although some species may undertake local movements in search of food.

Toucans are relatively large birds, with a body length of 12-24 in (30-61 cm). Their wings are short and rounded, the tail is long and wide, and the legs and feet are stout and strong, with the toes arranged in a zygodactyl pattern (i.e., two facing forward, and two backward).

The most distinctive feature of toucans is their tremendous, seemingly oversized, laterally compressed bill, which in some species is as long as the body. The bill is stout but well-chambered with air-containing cavities, and therefore surprisingly light in weight. The bill curves slightly downward, and often has a serrated inner margin. There is a small hook at the tip of the upper mandible, and the nostrils are placed at the base of the beak, near the head.

The function of the unusually enormous bill of toucans has not been conclusively determined. It may be helpful in plucking fruits that are far away from branches large enough for a toucan to perch on. Alternatively, the large bill may be used to frighten away potential predators, or to intimidate the parents of nestlings or eggs that toucans are predating upon. The bill may also have important social functions, for example, in courtship displays.

The body plumage of toucans is soft, and usually black or dark green, with conspicuous patches of white, yellow, orange, red, or blue. Toucans have bare, brightly colored skin around the eye . The large bill of toucans is brightly colored in most species, and is likely important in species recognition. The sexes of most species do not differ in size or coloration.

Toucans live in small, harshly noisy, often family related groups. They feed together, with an attentive sentry posted to warn against possible intrusions by predators. Toucans mostly eat fruits, insects , and sometimes the eggs or nestlings of other species of birds. Toucans can manipulate their foods quite dexterously, in spite of their huge bill.

Toucans have a repertoire of harsh croaks, yelps, mews, rattles, and other sounds. Some of the larger species give a series of almost musical renditions at dawn, which may function as territorial songs.

Toucans roost and nest in cavities in trees, commonly using abandoned holes excavated by woodpeckers, although these may be further enlarged by the toucans. During roosting, several birds may crowd into the same cavity, and when doing this they commonly fold their tail up over the back to save space. Toucans lay two to four eggs in an unlined nesting cavity as high up a tree as possible. The eggs are incubated by both parents, who also share the chick-rearing duties, which takes about 40-50 days until fledging occurs.

Species of toucans

The largest toucans are those in the genus Ramphastos, which live in lowland, tropical forests. The toco toucan (R. toco) occurs in tropical Amazonian forests, while the chestnut-mandibled toucan (R. swainsonii) occurs from Honduras to Venezuela.

Species of aracari toucans (Pteroglossus spp.) are smaller and relatively gregarious. The green aracari (Pteroglossus viridis) occurs in tropical forests from Venezuela through Brazil.

The toucanets are even smaller. The spot-billed toucanet (Selenidera maculirostris) occurs in forests from Venezuela and Guyana to northern Argentina.

Most species of toucans are less abundant today than they used to be, mostly because of loss of habitat through deforestation . However, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) does not yet list any species as being threatened or endangered.

Resources

books

Forshaw, Joseph. Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Academic Press, 1998.

Sick, H. Birds in Brazil: A Natural History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.


Bill Freedman

KEY TERMS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Zygodactyl

—The specific arrangement of toes of certain birds, in which two toes point forward, and two backward. This is the characteristic arrangement in the Piciformes, including the toucans.

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