Toucans, members of the neotropical bird family Ramphastidae, are split into five genera, and only 2 of those contain birds with the common name toucan - the mountain toucans and typical toucans. Dichromatic toucanets, green toucanets and araçaris form the other 3 genera.
Despite their differences, all of these birds have one thing in common - their large bills.
With their friendly faces, big eyes and iconic large and brightly coloured bills, toucans are much-loved around the world. This article will explore facts about baby toucans - there will be plenty of baby toucan photos along the way!
When born, baby toucans are minuscule, featherless and blind. Baby toucans do not have large bills when born, but if you do look carefully, you can see that their bill is already slightly larger than you might expect it to be.
Typical baby toucans look quite prehistoric. They are totally vulnerable and unable to do much apart from wriggling around!
The chicks of many toucan species, such as the Toco toucan, remain blind for some two weeks or more.
Toucan bills develop slowly, usually over the course of several months or even a year. Whilst toucans initially grow quickly, they are long-lived birds that don’t reach complete sexual maturity for around 2 to 4 years.
A young Toucan chick
Toucans vary in size from the small Lettered accari, which weighs 130 g (4.6 oz) and measures 29 cm (11 in), to the largest toucan - the Toco toucan - at 680 g (1.50 lb) and 63 cm (25 in).
As such, baby toucans also vary considerably in size, but generally, the chicks are very small. Toco toucans are the largest toucans, and even their chicks are just a few cm long, which provides some insight into how tiny smaller toucan chicks are.
Toco toucan chicks weigh roughly 30g, similar to that of a domesticated chicken chick. Unlike many other birds that hatch covered in down or feathers, baby toucans are naked and blind when born. This makes them lighter than they might be otherwise.
Juvenile toucans reach skeletal maturity after just around 2 to 4 months, which means they reach their adult body size and weight. But, the feathers and bill of a juvenile toucan remain undeveloped for much longer, possibly up to around one year for toucans with the largest bill like the Toco toucan.
Juvenile toucans look shaggy and scruffy with shorter, stubbier bills. Their bill starts to grow rapidly around the 2-month mark.
Green-billed Toucan baby on the ground
Baby toucans are quite simply called chicks, which is a universal word for baby birds in the English language. There’s no other word for baby toucans specifically.
There’s no specific name for a group of baby toucans, but a group of toucans is usually just called a flock, or rarely as a durante.
Toucans are generally highly gregarious and tend to flock together with around 6 to 50 other pairs and individuals who are seeking mates. They tend to become more solitary during the breeding season.
Toucans are known for being quite playful - Keel-billed toucans have even been known to ‘play catch’ by throwing berries in each other’s bills!
Many toucans are known to have companions or friends that they play with regularly, often playfighting or swashbuckling with their gigantic bills. This is why they’re sometimes referred to as the ‘clowns of the rainforest’!
A baby toucan in the forest
Toucan diets are usually very fruit and seed heavy, often consisting of some 90% of forest fruits and berries. They are technically still omnivorous and will eat worms, insects and even small mammals and lizards.
Toucan parents feed their chicks berries and other soft forest foods, which are usually partially digested and regurgitated into their mouths. They’re often spotted delicately holding a berry in the tip of their bills as they feed it to their chick.
Believe it or not, toucans do also have a dark side - they’re adept at stealing eggs from other birds’ nests and may even steal and eat nestlings. Their long bills facilitate this by allowing them to extend their bill right into the nests of smaller birds.
Red-breasted Toucan feeding their chick
Toucan chicks enjoy biparental care, meaning both parents look after the young through incubation, feeding and rearing fledgling chicks once they’ve departed the nest. Parents feed chicks soft foods such as fruits and berries, which will be regurgitated at first until the chick is able to consume harder foods.
Depending on the species, toucans are either monogamous or serially monogamous, meaning they stay together in their mated couple for at least the entire breeding season before potentially finding a new mate.
Plate-billed Mountain Toucan feeding their young chick
Toucan eggs are generally a smooth dull white colour. Most medium to larger sized members of the toucan family lay eggs that are around 4cm (1.5 inches) long - relatively small for a bird of their size.
The eggs of some toucan species have pitted grooves that extend lengthwise across the egg, but there are no other remarkable features.
Since toucans live in warm tropical climates, toucan eggs need only be incubated for 16 to 20 days before they’re ready to hatch. This rapid incubation period does also account for why baby toucans are so undeveloped after hatching. Both parents take it in turns to incubate the eggs.
Red-breasted Toucan's nest (Ramphastos dicolorus), with chick
Most toucans breed from around March to October, with peaks around May and Spring.
This varies from region to region; Keel-billed toucans breed from March to June in Costa Rica and in April in Panama, for example, typically choosing a dry month with steady weather if possible. Other members of the toucan family, such as toucanets, breed as early as December and may even raise two broods if the first one is successful early on in the season, though this is rare.
Baby toucans remain nestlings and stay in the nest for quite a long period of 40 to 60 days, mainly because they’re born blind and undeveloped and need to grow considerably before venturing outside.
Typically speaking, it's anywhere between the 45 to 50 day mark when baby toucans begin to fly.
A young toucan baby on the ground
Toucans fledge the nest at around the 40-day mark at the absolute earliest, but this may extend to the 60-day mark in some cases. Baby toucans will initially leave their nest to perch on nearby branches or briefly investigate their surroundings without straying too far from their parents.
Post-fledgling parental care can last another 2 to 3 months. After then, the toucan may leave the nesting territory and join a flock but will likely stay quite close to the parents until the end of the year. Toucans are non-migratory, and many species don’t tend to stray too far from where they’re born.
Toucans are known to reuse nests if their brood is raised successfully. Otherwise, they will look to create a new nest some six weeks before they intend to breed, giving them plenty of time to locate a suitable tree hollow.
Toucans generally nest in tree cavities but don’t usually excavate their nests with their large bills (though the Green toucanet has been observed doing this). Instead, they plan well in advance, searching for suitable tree hollows to line with soft grasses.
Emerald Toucanet in its nest in Tikal, Guatemala
Baby toucans are reared by both parents for around 40 to 60 days until they fledge the nest, but parental care doesn’t fully stop there.
The parents will continue to feed the chicks and keep an eye on them around the nest for a further 2 to 4 months or so, and chicks will likely linger around the nesting site for a while longer.
Toucan parents are hardworking and caring, taking turns to incubate the chicks and feed them. They’re also exceptionally hygienic and regularly clean out the nest of any debris or faeces, which helps lower the chance of infection.
Toucan bills are colossal, some 3 or 4 times larger than their head! There have been numerous theories as to why they possess these large bills, with Darwin arguing that it assisted the male birds in attracting a mate. Ornithologists later argued that their bills must also have a practical use in allowing the bird to pry berries and fruits from trees.
A more recent study found that because toucan bills make up some 40% of their surface area, they actually act as a giant heatsink which enables them to cool down efficiently in very hot weather.
Toucan bills take months to grow, usually up to a year or so in large-billed species like the Toco toucan. Interestingly, researchers also found that juvenile toucans are less efficient at dispersing heat through their bills than adults as they’re not as proficient in regulating blood flow to the beak.
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