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How Toucans Are More Than Just Big Bills and Bright Feathers

Toucans are colorful, big-billed, beautiful birds that live in rainforest trees of Central and South America.

The Toucan's bill can be four times the size of its head and almost as long as its entire body. Some suggest that the large and brightly colored bill is used to attract mates. Others believe this bill wards off predators or other creatures competing with the bird for food. Additionally, some think the bill is an adaptation that allows the bird to grab food that grows on the ends of branches that are hard to reach. Regardless of its purpose, the toucan's bill is a handy tool!

The toucan's bill is a light and primarily hollow structure made of keratin. The lightweight nature allows the toucan to stand on thin branches and reach for food without having to compensate for its ability due to its weight. The word "toucan" is derived from the sound these birds make, which often resembles the croaking noises of frogs. Many toucans make croaking, growling, and evening barking sounds. Female toucans usually have higher pitches than males.

Along with their fascinating bills, toucans also have a unique tongue. Similar to woodpeckers, toucans have long, narrow tongues that are feather-like. The bristled edges of the tongue catch and taste the food before it proceeds down the throat.

Toucans eat mostly fruits, but they also eat bugs, reptiles, and fish. They may steal and consume eggs from other birds' nests. The toucan's large bill has sharp edges that help it catch prey.

Regarding the family life of toucans, each group contains up to 22 birds. These birds are usually monogamous. Breeding occurs during the season when females lay up to five eggs. Both male and female toucans incubate the eggs for 15 to 18 days. Toucans will mature at three or four years old and live up to 18.

While the life of toucans can seem very colorful and easy, they are preyed upon by eagles, hawks, and owls. Additionally, their nests are invaded by boas, jaguars, and marguays. Their large bills are nearly useless in defense, so to protect themselves, toucans use their loud voices to scare their enemies away and alarm other toucans.

Toucans are currently an endangered and threatened species due to habitat loss. Additionally, some toucans are hunted in parts of Central America and the Amazon region for pet trade or used as trophies on walls. Conservation must focus on preserving the habitats and forests that support the survival of toucans and finding ways to prevent the hunting of these beautiful creatures.

[Source: San Diego Zoo]

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