The Ultimate Exotic Pet Bird: The Toucan

July 13, 2018

The Ultimate Exotic Pet Bird: The Toucan

The majestic Toucan, sometimes used as the international symbol for rainforest care, is one of hardest bird to acquire (especially if you live like half the world away from its natural habitat) for they are native to the Neotropics, spanning from Central America down to South America, and also to take care of.

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

Of course the first thing that comes onto one's mind the image of a toucan above. That is the Tocotoucan and one of the most famous bird of the toucan family (for those guys who haven't seen a toucan before, check your Froot Loops cereal box, that, my friend, is Toucan Sam, and you guessed it, he's a Toucan), A Toco toucan named Rafael is also featured in the movie "Rio" and is depicted as a sweet and charming balladeer. (not really that far to a real toucan's behavior)

One if the most easily noticeable characteristic of the toucan is of course their huge bills – almost as long as their entire body – and it's striking colors. You might think that sing their bills are so unproportionally big compared to their size, it is not as heavy as it looks (albeit their huge bills, toucans can fly). Even though they belong to the soft-bill family, their bills are not soft either (hard enough to pierce the outer skin of their favorite fruits in the wild). Their bills are full of microscopic holes, and these holes are arranged in a honey-comb like lattice which makes it light enough to let the bird fly yet strong. Toucan bills are proportionately sized depending on their body size, making larger toucans (such as the Toco toucans) have very huge bills while smaller ones (such as the toucanets) having bills that seems pretty normal in size.

The Toucan Itself...

Toucans use their bills for different purposes. One such use is that they can reach out fruits that dangles from thin branches that are delicate enough to bear their weight.

Toucans are social creatures as well and usually shares their food to other toucans and also preen them using the tips of their bills. Bill pattern vary from species to species and they use it to recognize each other and to look for potential mates. The bills are also used like a club to fend of predators away from their nests.

Toucans can grow in different sizes, from the smallest ones (such as the green-billed toucans, who only grows at an average of 16 to 18 inches long) to the largest (the Toco toucan, or sometimes called the Giant toucan, with a body length that can reach up to 25 inches long).

They are awkward fliers and usually prefer to flap their wings a couple of times to gain altitude and then glide down. Since they usually live In the tropical regions of Central and South America where tall tree canopy touches each other, they will prefer to hop from branch to branch to navigate the thick jungle and find food.

Coloration varies from species to species. If there is on the thing that other birds can't beat the toucan aside from bill size is the bill color and they are known to have the most colorful bills of all birds.

Their distinctive plumage are a perfect camouflage in the treetops. Potential predators from afar might mistake them to a ripe mango or papaya. Their bodies are generally black, white, red, yellow, blue or green and their bills are commonly colored black and ivory, totally ivory or mainly intense crimson.

Toucans have that penchant of being noisy. They do not talk or mimic sounds like parrots nor sing lovely tunes like canaries, but they caw, squawk, hoot, and do trumpet-like sounds, or they will produce a purr-like sound when they are happy or pleased.

They are also famous for their loud calls that can be heard all over the jungle (up to half a mile away). They pretty much have that personality of an active house cat, for they are very lively and playful, and enjoys exploring their surrounding and checking anything that may pique their interest.

As for a pet, they love to perch on your forearms or shoulders and are smart enough to be taught few simple tricks, like playing catch or fetch.

It is not easy to have a pet toucan. Most countries see it as illegal to even have a toucan for a pet and only few countries have laws that legalizes people to own one (of course, a lot of paperwork should be filled first and you must pass all the qualifications needed in order to legally own one).

In some states of the U.S. (Like Florida, which is known for letting people have all sorts of pets they should not have), it is indeed possible to keep a toucan as a pet as long as you have the proper license.

However, toucans are generally wild creatures and the only ones that are for sale legally in countries such as the US are hand-reared ones, that means they grew up and become dependent to humans. So, if you are planning to have one, consult your local wildlife protection laws first if they permits people to have one as a pet.

Toucan Care

Alright, now that you have checked all your local laws, filled all the paperwork, passed all the qualification to legally own one and got your very own toucan from a reputable and legal breeder (making sure that the toucan you are planning to have is used to be handled by humans since it was a chick, and also get the ones with a ring on either one of their foot, for that means it was hand-reared since birth), now is the time to learn first some few important things in order to successfully take care of your new pet Toucan.

Of course, these are mostly taken up on your qualification test to own one beforehand. You need to remember that the reason why toucan ownership have all those paperwork and the whole shebang is because unlike other common pet birds such as the Scarlett macaw or the Umbrella cockatoo, toucans have very specific needs that needs to be met in order to have a magnificent, healthy bird under your wing.

The Enclosure

It is generally advised to have toucans housed in a planted bird aviary (especially the outdoor ones) for they need fresh air and sunlight, just like their native habitat. However, if given plenty out-of-cage time, along with a bird cage large enough to house a macaw (just like this one on, they might do just fine.

As long as your place counter-measures such as bird-proofing your house so that your luxurious pet can't get away and keeping all small objects away from his immediate vicinity (by the way, toucans are notorious for picking up and ingesting almost any objects small enough to fit in its mouth, such as coins and marbles) and several breeders have reported loosing up to several of their toucans due to the ingestion of some common household items such as thumbtacks, screws, nails, staples, and even small broken glass that is usually left and forgotten after the construction of their aviary.

After constructing the aviary and just before putting in the toucan/toucans inside, make sure first to eliminate any possible foreign objects that lies around the floor of the bird aviary by using a magnet or thoroughly sweeping the floor.

If you are planning to let your toucan play outside it's cage indoors, all small things that your toucan might swallow should be put away, and also don’t let your toucan go to the kitchen or the garage.

It is also ideal that your local climate is almost identical to the climate toucans used to live in. Toucans must be offered a temperature between 18° C and 28° C (64º F to 82º F) and a high relative humidity level, at 60 to 85%. This is because toucans are tropical birds, and they should be kept in the closest manner to their native conditions. You can also replicate this temperature indoors using a humidifier to control humidity and a home heating system to warm up your home during cold weather.(I know, with great birds comes great responsibilities)


Toucans are mostly vegetarian, but they do need some animal protein in their diet too, which in their natural habitat is derived from insects, small lizards, nestlings and some rodents. The basis of their diet is fruit, followed by vegetables. This is because toucans have a very small stomach where food remains for very little time, so they need to eat very hydrating food like fruit. Among the most desirable fruits for toucans we can find:

You can also feed tame toucans small veggie balls made of cooked rice, carrots, cucumber and potato all mashed together and formed into 1 inch balls to add on your toucan's fruit diet.

These small supplement balls should occasionally include protein like adding a bit of cooked, ground meat to balance their diet and make it kind of similar to the that of a toucan would have in the wild.

Since toucans have "soft bills" and usually doesn't chew their food (they just gulp it all down and call it a meal), they do not have a crop for the storage of food. For that reason, it is important that the food you should give to your bird have already been cut up to bite-sized pieces (usually around a third of an inch thick) which is easy to swallow.

Most commercial pelleted bird food have too much iron in them that this may cause hemochromatosis or iron storage disease in toucans. It is advisable to choose low-iron pellets for soft-billed birds (you can also try dry kibble dog food as an alternative and is recommended by some toucan owners) and since pellets for dogs are dry, your bird's droppings may tend to be less messy.

Water is an essential factor in keeping a healthy toucan. Toucans should have access to clean water all the time, may it be for bathing or for drinking. Always place a large bird bath in your toucan's bird aviary or large bird cage deep enough to cover nearly half of your toucan's body but shallow enough for it to not drown. Visit Bird Nutrition for more information about your pet (Toucans) nutritional needs.


Aside from always placing clean water on your toucan's aviary, you also need to maintain the enclosure's cleanliness by always cleaning their droppings regularly and take away unfinished fresh food (such as leftover fruits and veggies) to avoid spoilage that may cause diseases if eaten by your pet bird.

You should be meticulous in cleaning your toucan's enclosure (for they tend to be very messy most of the time). It is also not advised to use basic household cleaners to clean your toucan's bird aviary for they contain chemicals that are toxic to your pet. It is much better to just simply use running water and a heavy-duty brush to carry out the cleaning. Their diets should be strictly maintained in order for them to survive.

Possible Toucan Health Issues

One of the most common cause of death of toucans in Brazil is Capillariosis.. This is a parasitic disease caused by the Capillaria worms which adheres to the intestinal mucosa, causing loss of anemia, dehydration, emaciation, hypoproteinemia, hyporexia, anorexia, apathy, lethargy, and brown to bloody diarrhea. If you think you toucan have this disease, seek professional right away or bring your toucan to the nearest avian vet to provide immediate medical attention and to avoid the risk of worsening the situation.

With proper food and care, toucans can live a long and happy life of 20 years (or sometimes even more). Also, toucans need your attention regularly. Play with your toucan such as fetch or catch using bird toys with no small parts that can come off (like bouncy silicon balls that are as large as golf balls or ping-pong balls). This will stimulate your toucans mentally, thus avoiding them getting bored or becoming hostile towards you.

No matter how you look at it, if you are looking for a companion bird that is intelligent, curious and entertaining (disregarding the maintenance cost and all the legal procedure, plus the other things you need to go through to get one), then the toucan really fits the bill. You may also like Bird Health for more information about your toucan's general health.

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