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Keel Billed Toucan

All About the Keel Billed Toucan


The keel billed toucan, commonly referred to as the sulphur-breasted or rainbow-billed toucan, is a favorite bird of many zoo visitors around the world. The colorful rainbow beak averages five to six inches and length and is easily their most distinguishing feature. It might appear quite heavy, but it is actually made of keratin, a very light protein, and similar in consistency to a hard, dried sea sponge. The tongue is feather like in appearance, and is used to help move food down the throat.

The average male keel billed toucan will reach twenty inches in height, with the females of the species being just slightly smaller at an average of 17 inches tall. Their body feathers are primarily black in color, and the head and breast feathers are a bright yellow with green shading around the eyes. Keel billed toucans have red fathers at the tip of the tail. Most of these birds molt only one time per year.

Natural Habitat

The natural range of the keel-billed toucan is from Northern Columbia to Southern Mexico and Venezuela. They prefer lowland rainforest regions, where they spend most of their time hopping from tree branch to tree branch. At night these toucans roost in groups of two to three in hollowed out areas of the tree that were constructed by other birds in the past.

Social Structure

Keel billed toucans are very social birds and live in small and medium sized flocks. Family groups can often be seen sparring with their beaks to establish dominance, but for the most part they are a very peaceful group that enjoys playing amongst themselves. They are not strong flyers, so tend to stick to a range of close growing trees to enable them to hop from one feeding spot to the next.


For a flock of these toucans to maintain their mental and physical well being, zoos must provide ample cage space with many perches or trees for the toucans to explore. They get bored very easily and must have toys to entertain them or the will begin to appear depressed and easily become sick.


Many zoos and large aviaries have had significant growth in their captive flock. The females lay eggs in the hollowed out tree nests. The average clutch consists of one to four eggs. Because keel billed toucans mate for life, the male and female take turns incubating the eggs. Most eggs will hatch within twenty days, and both parents partake in the responsibility of feeding and rearing the young birds. The large beaks take time to develop, so most fledgling birds will not leave the nest until they are over two months old. The juvenile birds reach adulthood by the age of two and can reproduce at that time. The average lifespan of the keel billed toucan in the wild is twenty years, and captive bred specimens typically live for fifteen years.


Keel billed toucans are mainly fruit eaters, although they will eat insects, reptiles and other small birds. Many zoo visitors enjoy watching the keel billed toucan eat, as they use their beak to spear the fruit and then toss their heads back to allow the fruit to be swallowed. They can often be seen tossing food to each other, to delight of onlookers.

Adaptability & Outlook

The keel billed toucan has surprisingly adapted very well to the growth of the human population and development of its natural habitat. Unlike many other exotic birds of this region, the keel billed toucan appears to be unlikely to become an engendered species due to their great ability to adapt.

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