Keel-billed toucan

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Keel-billed toucan
Ramphastos sulfuratus -Belize Zoo-6a-2c.jpg
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Piciformes
Family: Ramphastidae
Genus: Ramphastos
R. sulfuratus
Binomial name
Ramphastos sulfuratus
Lesson, 1830

see text

The keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), also known as sulfur-breasted toucan or rainbow-billed toucan, is a colorful Latin American member of the toucan family. It is the national bird of Belize. [2]

Latin America Region of the Americas where Romance languages are primarily spoken

Latin America is a group of countries and dependencies in the Western Hemisphere where Romance languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and French are predominantly spoken; it is broader than the terms Ibero-America or Hispanic America. The term "Latin America" was first used in an 1856 conference with the title "Initiative of the America. Idea for a Federal Congress of the Republics", by the Chilean politician Francisco Bilbao. The term was used also by Napoleon III's French government in the 1860s as Amérique latine to consider French-speaking territories in the Americas, along with the larger group of countries where Spanish and Portuguese languages prevailed, including the Spanish-speaking portions of the United States Today, areas of Canada and the United States where Spanish, Portuguese and French are predominant are typically not included in definitions of Latin America.

Toucan family of birds

Toucans are members of the Neotropical near passerine bird family Ramphastidae. The Ramphastidae are most closely related to the American barbets. They are brightly marked and have large, often-colorful bills. The family includes five genera and over forty different species.


Taxonomy and systematics


Two subspecies are recognized: [3]

John Gould English ornithologist and illustrator

John Gould FRS was an English ornithologist and bird artist. He published a number of monographs on birds, illustrated by plates that he produced with the assistance of his wife, Elizabeth Gould, and several other artists including Edward Lear, Henry Constantine Richter, Joseph Wolf and William Matthew Hart. He has been considered the father of bird study in Australia and the Gould League in Australia is named after him. His identification of the birds now nicknamed "Darwin's finches" played a role in the inception of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Gould's work is referenced in Charles Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species.


Keel-billed toucan in Las Pumas Zoo, Costa Rica Keel-billed toucan, costa rica.jpg
Keel-billed toucan in Las Pumas Zoo, Costa Rica

Including its bill, the keel-billed toucan ranges in length from around 42 to 55 cm (17 to 22 in). [4] Their large and colorful bill averages around 12–15 cm (4.7–5.9 in), about one-third of its length. It typically weighs about 380–500 g (13–18 oz). [5] While the bill seems large and cumbersome, it is in fact a spongy, hollow bone covered in keratin, a very light and hard protein.

Keratin one of a family of fibrous structural proteins; protein that protects epithelial cells from damage or stress

Keratin is one of a family of fibrous structural proteins. It is the key structural material making up hair, nails, horns, claws, hooves, and the outer layer of human skin. Keratin is also the protein that protects epithelial cells from damage or stress. Keratin is extremely insoluble in water and organic solvents. Keratin monomers assemble into bundles to form intermediate filaments, which are tough and form strong unmineralized epidermal appendages found in reptiles, birds, amphibians, and mammals. The only other biological matter known to approximate the toughness of keratinized tissue is chitin.

The plumage of the keel-billed toucan is mainly black with a yellow neck and chest. Molting occurs once per year. [6] It has blue feet and red feathers at the tip of its tail. The bill is mainly green with a red tip and orange sides.

Feather body-covering structure of birds

Feathers are epidermal growths that form the distinctive outer covering, or plumage, on birds, other extinct species of dinosaurs, and possibly pterosaurs. They are considered the most complex integumentary structures found in vertebrates and a premier example of a complex evolutionary novelty. They are among the characteristics that distinguish the extant birds from other living groups.

Keel-billed toucans have zygodactyl feet (or feet with toes facing in different directions) – two toes face forward and two face back. Because toucans spend a large portion of time in the trees, this helps the birds to stay on the branches of the trees and jump from one branch to another.

Distribution and habitat

The keel-billed toucan can be found from Southern Mexico to Venezuela and Colombia. It roosts in the canopies of tropical, subtropical, and lowland rainforests, up to altitudes of 1,900 m (6,200 ft). [7] It roosts in holes in trees, [6] often with several other toucans. This can be very cramped, so the birds tuck their tails and beaks under their bodies to conserve space while sleeping. Adding to the lack of space, the bottoms of the holes are often covered with pits from the fruit the toucans have eaten. [6]

Behaviour and ecology

Like many toucans, keel-billed toucans are very social birds, rarely seen alone. They fly in small flocks of approximately six to twelve individuals through lowland rainforests. Their 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. [6] Their feet are drawn up forward in flight. The flight distances are typically short. [6] They live together in groups, often sharing cramped living quarters of holes in trees. There is a family structure within the group. Birds often "duel" with each other using their bills, and throw fruit into each other's mouths. They 'play ball', one throwing a fruit in the air and a second seizing it. [6]

Keel-billed toucan in Costa Rica Keel-billed Toucan (16201157519).jpg
Keel-billed toucan in Costa Rica


The female keel-billed toucan will lay 1–4 white eggs in a natural or already-made tree cavity. [8] The male and female share in the caring of the eggs, both taking turns incubating. [6] The eggs hatch approximately 15–20 days after being laid. After hatching, the male and female again take turns feeding the chicks. When the chicks hatch, they have no feathers, and have their eyes closed for approximately 3 weeks. The chicks have adequately formed heel pads, which assist on the pit-covered bottom of the nest. [6] The chicks stay in their nest for approximately eight to nine weeks while their bills develop fully and they are ready to fledge from the nest.

Food and feeding

The diet of keel-billed toucans consists mostly of a wide range of fruit, [10] but may also include insects, eggs, nestlings and lizards. The bill, surprisingly dexterous, allows this toucan to utilize a large variety of fruit that might not otherwise be reached. When eating the fruit, it uses its bill to dissect the fruit, and then tosses its head back to swallow the fruit whole.


The keel-billed toucan is sometimes kept in captivity, but it requires a high-fruit diet and is sensitive to hemochromatosis (an iron storage disease). [11]


Able to utilize human-altered habitat to some extent, [9] this widespread bird is considered to be a Species of Least Concern by the IUCN. [1] However, they are still threatened by hunting for their meat and beaks, and toucan populations are on a decreasing trend.

Related Research Articles

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  1. 1 2 BirdLife International (2012). "Ramphastos sulfuratus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature . Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. Developer. "Government of Belize Portal". Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  3. "IOC World Bird List 6.4". IOC World Bird List Datasets. doi:10.14344/
  4. Skutch, Alexander F. (1971). "Life History of the Keel-billed Toucan" (PDF). The Auk . 88 (2): 381–396. doi:10.2307/4083886.
  5. "Keel-billed Toucan, Costa Rica – information, where to see it, and photos". Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Van Tyne, Josselyn (1929). "The Life History of the Toucan, Ramphastos brevicarinatus". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Miscellaneous Publications. 19: 1–43.
  7. Strewe, Ralf; Navarro, Cristobal (2004). "New and noteworthy records of birds from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region, north-eastern Colombia" (PDF). Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club . 12 (1): 38–51. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-12-31.
  8. "Keel-Billed Toucan Ramphastos sulfuratus". . The Sacramento Zoological Society.External link in |website= (help)[ permanent dead link ]
  9. 1 2 Foster, Mercedes S. (2007). "The potential of fruit trees to enhance converted habitats for migrating birds in southern Mexico". Bird Conservation International. 17: 45. doi:10.1017/S0959270906000554.
  10. E.g. Cymbopetalum mayanum (Annonaceae) and gumbo-limbo (Bursera simaruba) [6] [9]
  11. Otten, Benjamin A.; Orosz, Susan E.; Auge, Shannon; Frazier, Donita L. (2001). "Mineral Content of Food Items Commonly Ingested by Keel-Billed Toucans (Ramphastos sulfuratus)". Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery. 15 (3): 194. doi:10.1647/1082-6742(2001)015[0194:MCOFIC]2.0.CO;2.