Channel-billed toucan

(Ramphastos vitellinus)

Channel-billed Toucan by Theo Ferguson

We may all be familiar with Toucan Sam, the colourful mascot of Fruit Loops Cereal fame. If you have never heard of him, Google will prove to be a wonderful informant. Maybe while searching, you can check out the Channel-billed Toucan: Trinidad’s treasured and only species of this vibrantly coloured bird. Toucans belong to the family Ramphastidae which is indigenous to Latin America. The Channel-billed Toucan,however, is restricted to South America and Trinidad. Often, spotting a Toucan on the verandah here at the Asa Wright Nature Centre gives visitors such a thrill that they cannot help but vocalise their excitement. The Channel-billed Toucan is easy to spot with its gigantic bill, black body, yellow and white breast, baby blue face and red bands on the tail and breast. This large bird measures an average of 20 inches. If the visitor listens closely enough he can also hear the Toucan’s loud, high-pitched “squeeek”. The Channel-billed Toucan is a rain forest canopy dweller that forages for fruit and insects. Some species are even known to steal other birds’ eggs. In Trinidad, however, there has been no evidence to prove that our beloved Channel-billed Toucan exhibits these criminal tendencies! However, if you have seen one rob a bird’s nest, do tell. Our Toucans especially favour the fruit of the Wild Nutmeg tree. In fact, so regularly are they perched on a particular Wild Nutmeg tree at the Centre that the Guides affectionately refer to the latter as the “Toucan Tree.” Toucans are gregarious creatures, found in small groups, and are not very adept fl iers. Thus they are normally seen swooping from tree to tree and hopping about skilfully on branches. They also have quite loving feeding habits. During courtship the male can be seen feeding the female. The Channel-billed Toucan breeds between March and June, commonly nesting in tree cavities. During breeding season, one of these Toucans would lay between two and four eggs which are incubated by both the male and female. Interestingly, the young ones are born with a smaller bill which takes several months to reach full size. Not only has the Toucan dazzled the world with its beauty but it has also puzzled the world. For years biologists have been intrigued by the Toucan’s outstanding beak. Why was it so large? Some suggested that it aided in the picking of fruit. Others, that it was a deterrent to competition. New research has shown that the beak in fact helps regulate the Toucan’s body temperature. On a good morning, this glorious bird can be seen surveying its territory atop many a tree at the Asa Wright Nature Centre. Aren’t you eager to catch a glimpse of him?

By J.L. Ryan

References:

  • ffrench, Richard. 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Hilty, Steven L. 2003. Birds of Venezuela.
  • http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/mysteryof-the-toucans-beak-solved-1759284.html.
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