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All About Pet Toucans

Have you ever considered a toucan as a pet? Learn about their care, diet and the different toucan species.

By Dick Schroeder

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There used to be very few sources for tame, domestic-raised toucans, but more and more breeders are working with them now. They are a bit easier to find now, especially the smaller species, like the aracaris and toucanets.

I still believe the larger species of toucans — the toco toucansSwainson’s toucans and keel-billed toucans — would be happier living in a planted aviary. However, if given plenty out-of-cage time, along with a cage large enough to house a macaw, they might do just fine. It means bird-proofing the house, as toucans are known for picking up and swallowing almost anything. Breeders have reported losing up to several of their toucans from the birds eating nails, staples, screws, etc., that were left over from the construction of the aviary. When the aviary is finished, use a large magnet on the floor before birds are placed in. Indoors, all little things have to be put away, especially if the bird has free reign of the house.

Keel-Billed Toucan
By Gina Cioli/BowTie/Courtesy Omar's Exotic Birds
The "Fruit Loops" toucan is based off the keel-billed toucan.

Toucan Species
The smaller species of toucans are much better suited to life indoors. A smaller bird generally means smaller housing (and a smaller mess when you have to clean up after it!). They have similar personalities as the larger toucans and, while not as colorful as the larger species, they have interesting patterns and coloration.

The species most likely to be available as pets are the green aracari (Pteroglossus virdis), the collared aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), the emerald toucanet (Aulacorhynchus prasinus) and the Guyana toucanet (Selenidera culik).

A little searching will reveal the ivory-billed aracari (Pteroglossus azara), or the very unique curl-crested aracari (Pteroglossus beauharnaesii), which looks like it has shiny, plastic curls on the crown of its head.

You will likely only find three larger species available: the toco toucan (Ramphastos toco), the keel-billed or sulphur-breasted toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), which is the species that the “Fruit Loops” cereal toucan is based off of, and the Swainson’s toucan (Ramphastos ambiguus swainsonii).

Toucan Food Needs
While all of toucans are known as softbills, their bill is anything but soft. “Softbill” refers to their diet of soft fruits.

With proper food and care, toucans can live 20 years or more. Diet is extremely important, as all toucans are susceptible to hemochromatosis, or iron-storage disease. Before modern diets, people used dog kibble as a source of protein. This brought an early end to the lives of many toucans. Today, it’s not difficult to feed a diet low in iron (less than 100 parts per million), because several manufactures offer low iron softbill diets.

Low-iron pellets, along with a variety of diced fruit, are all it takes to keep toucans happy and healthy. Avoid citrus fruits and tomatoes, as they can lead to the uptake of iron. Blueberries are probably the favorite fruit of all the toucans, but if your bird is free to roam the house, you might find blueberry stains everywhere. Grapes are relished by toucans as well. I use papaya as the basis for my softbill diet because it is a very nutritious fruit. Toucans do not need mealworms, crickets or any other live food, but will enjoy a large water bowl for drinking, as well as bathing.

Any of the large species will make a meal of a smaller bird, so if you have finches or lovebirds, keep them away from the larger toucans!

Toucan Care
The smaller toucans are naturally quieter than the larger ones; most have little yelps or barks, and even make a purring sound when pleased or content. The Swainson’s toucan is the loudest. It has a very loud yelp that can carry for some distance. The rest are quieter; your neighbors might not even know you have a bird.

Toucans will play with toys, but be certain that there are no small parts that can come off, such as bell clappers. The best toys are wiffle balls or golf ball-sized plastic balls with all of the holes. They are light-weight toys that can easily be tossed about by the birds. Toucans can also learn to catch grapes thrown to them from across a room.

Most toucans like to be held and petted; others would prefer not to be touched but do stay tame. It just depends on the individual bird.

If you would like a toucan, consider your floor and wall coverings, as well as your furniture, and be prepared to answer the same question over and over from your nonbird friends: “Do they talk?” They do not.

Toucan Specifics
Toucans are not parrots; they come from the family Ramphastidae, which also includes the toucanets and aracaries. There are 37 known species of toucans, and they fall in five different genera:

1) Genus Aulacorhynchus
2) Genus Selenidera
3) Genus Andigena
4) Genus Pteroglossus
5) Genus Ramphastos

Native to the neotropics, a range that expands from Mexico to South America, toucans are primarily frugivores. They will also eat small lizards, bird eggs (or small chicks) and insects. They range in size: 12 to 24 inches long.

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All About Pet Toucans

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Reader Comments
Toucan attacks a nest!
Check my video on youtube, where a toucan attacks another bird's nest:
Nandor, International
Posted: 3/23/2016 2:49:37 PM
If anyone is interested in getting a Toucan, Aracari, or Toucanet (all in the toucan family), I would be glad to point you in the right direction and to a very reputable breeder in CA. For a great bit of detail on the toucan species, owning, and care of one ... see website
Adrienne, Port Charlotte, FL
Posted: 5/6/2011 12:24:35 PM
Mary Ann, Fayetteville, TN
Posted: 5/5/2011 1:54:33 PM
Toucan Girl, Toucan World, AL
Posted: 5/5/2011 8:07:25 AM
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