Toucans are tropical birds with large, distinctly colored beaks. They are mostly found in forests and woodlands and live in the hollows of large trees. While they used to be a wild species, some people also like keeping them as pets. Their unique appearance and their continued presence in pop culture have made them attractive pets. However, you cannot just walk into a pet store and ask for a toucan.
It is difficult to acquire and care for a toucan and not everyone can legally keep a toucan as a pet. You also need to be well versed with their living habits before you decide to get one. Owning a toucan can be a huge responsibility. If you’re thinking about getting a toucan for a pet, here’s everything you need to know:
Quick Facts About the Toucan
There are more than 40 species of toucans in the world. Most of them are found in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. They are quite famous all over the world and appear as mascots for many brands.
- Appearance: Toucans usually have a black and white body with a distinctly colored beak. Some species have brightly colored necks too. They are quite larger when compared to North American birds.Depending on the species, their length and weight can range from 11 inches and 4.6 oz to 25 inches and 1.5 pounds. The bill makes up a considerable part of the body length.Their wingspan is relatively small with regard to their size. Thus, toucans hop more often than they fly. Their colorful beaks are used for courtship, handling fruit, defense and camouflage too.
- Scientific Name: Toucans belong to the bird family Ramphastidae. There are about 5 genera and 40 species in this bird family.
- Diet: Toucans are omnivorous. They can eat insects and small animals like lizards, but their diet mainly comprises tropical fruit.They sometimes forage for eggs in the nests of smaller birds, which makes up for the lack of protein in their diet.
- Sound: They get their name from their iconic call. It is quite similar to the croaking of a frog.Different species of toucans have a variety of sounds they can make including chirping, barking, growling and even a donkey-like braying. Female toucans usually have a much larger vocal range than males.
- Habitat: Toucans are mostly found in Neotropical regions. They live in primary forests, but venture into secondary forests when the food is insufficient.
- Habits: Toucans live in small flocks. They live in the hollows of large trees and survive on a diet mainly of fruits like oranges and figs.They also practice a lot of friendly behaviors like play-fighting with their large beaks, chasing each other and singing songs.Toucans lay up to 4 eggs and both parents take turns looking after the eggs. When they are born, the baby toucans do not possess the large colorful beak. It grows as they mature.
Different Types of Toucans
There are 5 distinct genera of toucans, which are further classified into 40 species. They differ from each other in size, color and natural habitat. Here are the characteristics of the different genera of toucans:
This genus has the largest species of toucans. Toco toucan, perhaps the most famous toucan in the world, belongs to this genus. They mostly live in tropical or subtropical areas. The toucans in this genus have extremely vivid beaks and most of them have a splash of color around their eyes or on their necks too.
The green-billed toucan, the Choco toucan and the keel-billed toucan all belong to this genus.
The toucans in this genus are also called ‘mountain toucans’. They are mostly medium sized and live in higher altitudes with temperate climates. The Andes are concentrated with toucans of this genus. They are olive-brown and feature splashes of blue and gray. The color of the bills varies depending on the exact species. Their distinct colors help them blend in with their habitat which ranges from Bolivia to Venezuela.
This genus has 6 species of dichromatic toucans. They are small sized and mainly found in the tropical forests of South America. Male and female toucans in this genus can be easily identified because they differ in color. The male toucans are mostly black while the female toucans are a deep, rich brown. They survive mostly on fruit and do not venture far from their nests, making them difficult to spot. They are elusive and prefer to keep to themselves.
This genus is composed of aracaris and the saffron toucanet. They are medium-sized toucans featuring brightly colored feathers. They can be found in the warm rainforests of America and roost throughout the year.
The green toucanets belong to this genus. They are small in size and quite similar in appearance to parrots. What sets them apart are their long, curved beaks. There are 11 species in this genus and all of them can be found in the humid forests of Central and South America and Mexico.
Caring for a Toucan
If you are planning on keeping a toucan as a pet, you need to be prepared to care for it. They are certainly not low maintenance as pets and require a lot of care and attention at every stage of their life.
On average, toucans need to be fed fresh fruit at least twice a day. They like tropical fruit like papaya, berries and mangoes. You need to procure and cut up fresh fruit for them every day, as they won’t prefer canned or frozen fruit. Since they are omnivorous, they need animal protein too. You can feed them a little ground beef from time to time and supplement their diet with items like rice, cucumber, carrots and potatoes.
They will hunt down insects or other small pests while in their cage. You do need to figure out a comprehensive diet plan for them by consulting with a veterinarian. Toucans are quite susceptible to problems like gout if they don’t get proper nutrition.
They need a large space to live in. Toucans are not small birds. You cannot keep them in a cage in your room. They need a large enclosure they can move around in. Ideally, their living area should be outdoors where they can enjoy fresh air and sunshine.
If they are indoors, you need to ‘bird-proof’ the room they are in. Whenever you let them out, ceiling fans, clear windows or tables and open toilets will pose a threat to them. They like moving around a lot, so they either need a very large enclosure or need to be let out of their enclosure for a few hours every day.
Socializing and Training
Toucans love having company. You cannot leave them home alone for extended periods of time. If you have a job that keeps you away from home, you need to arrange for someone to take care of your toucan for you. These birds are extremely smart and need a lot of stimulation. However, training them is not an easy task. Despite being highly intelligent, they have a very small attention span.
Toucans have not been domesticated like dogs are cats and hence conditioning them to perform tasks is a very experimental process. You need to approach their training with new ideas and a lot of patience every day. They like handling stuff with their talons and beaks. You will need to get them toys to play with, otherwise, they will get bored and exhibit other behaviors you might hate.
You can buy or make toys for them, but they will be done with them after a few weeks and will require new toys to play with.
Cleaning up is a large part of owning a toucan. Toucans are sloppy eaters—they toss fruit up into the air and might or might not catch it with their beaks. If you have ever owned a bird, you already know how much they poop. Harsh chemicals can be harmful to toucans. You need to buy veterinarian-approved cleaning materials to clean their living area every day, as poor hygiene can cause diseases in toucans.
You will need to clean up their living area at least once a day. If you let them out of their enclosure for a few hours, expect to be cleaning up around the house too. It is easier when their living area is outdoors—you can just hose it down.
The Cost of Owning a Toucan
Toucans are exotic animals and one of the most expensive pets you can own. Toco toucans, the most popular species of toucans can cost you upwards of $10,000 from a legitimate breeder. Besides, many species of toucans mate for life. If you want your toucan to have a normal social life, you need to buy at least two so they have some company or a partner during mating season.
Buying the toucan, an enclosure for it to live in and the cost of securing a permit for it are all one-time costs. Keeping a toucan is going to cost you a lot more over the years as they require a lot of maintenance. You will need a special veterinary consultant to oversee their diet and behavior and regularly check the status of their health.
The daily expense of their food is also not negligible. They eat fresh, tropical fruits which can get very expensive over the years. The cost of buying or making toys for them every few weeks or months also adds up. It is obvious that you will not always be around to care for the toucan. When you go on holiday or need to be away for work, you need to hire help to look after the toucan. Since they have very specific needs, there are very few people qualified to take care of them.
There is no cost-effective way to keep a toucan as a pet. If you are planning on buying one, you need to accept the fact that it will cost you a lot of money and effort for as long as it lives.
Is It Legal to Own a Toucan in the US?
It is not legal to have toucans as pets everywhere in the United States. Many states have laws prohibiting cohabitation with a toucan. In some states, toucans are permissible as exotic pets. However, they require a special permit. Having a toucan without the proper permit is a punishable offense.
You cannot legally have a toucan as a pet in the following states of America:
- California: Having a pet toucan can land you a misdemeanor charge in California. Toucans are exotic pets and they may carry diseases that can be fatal to the native wildlife.Thus, if you live in California, it is illegal to have a toucan as a pet.
- Colorado: People are not allowed to own any tropical birds in Colorado, which includes toucans. Permits for birds of all kinds need a proper clearance certificate from a veterinary doctor certifying that they are healthy and disease-free.They should have proper documentation and be ethically bred, only then are you allowed to keep a bird as a pet in Colorado.
- Alaska: Toucans are not currently classified as ‘domestic’ animals. In Alaska, you can only keep animals that are classified as domestic.Owning any kind of exotic pet is an offense in Alaska. The trade, release and import of these animals are also strictly prohibited.
- Oregon: You can keep a toucan as a pet in Oregon but you will need a specific permit from the US Department of Agriculture. If you are found without a permit, you will be penalized.The permits are almost exclusively given out to zoological parks and rehabilitation homes, so it is almost impossible for an individual to obtain one.
- Ohio: There are about 40 species of toucans and some of them fall into the endangered category. These species will require special permission in the state of Ohio.The species of exotic birds that are not currently on the endangered list can be owned as pets by individuals, it is perfectly legal.
- Arkansas: Arkansas has strict legal procedures in place to prevent the illegal trade and inhumane treatment of exotic birds and animals.If you wish to own a toucan in Arkansas, you need proper proof that the toucan was obtained from a legal and ethical source. The bird also needs to be vetted and cleared by a veterinary doctor, since toucans often carry harmful pathogens.
- Maine: Laws concerning exotic pets are very strict in Maine. Exotic birds like toucans generally cannot be kept as pets in houses.They only allow certain rehabilitation organizations, educational organizations and aviary researchers to keep toucans in appropriate habitats.It is otherwise a punishable offense to own, rehome, import or breed toucans without explicit permission from the government.
- Hawaii: Hawaii has extensive laws that protect the indigenous species and prevent their endangerment or extinction. The native species can be threatened by the influx of non-native animals.Thus, exotic birds like toucans are banned in Hawaii unless they are part of a controlled environment like a zoological park. The private ownership of geckos and alligators is also illegal.
- Delaware: The state of Delaware prohibits the ownership of a toucan caught from its natural habitat. This law is in place to protect wild animals from unethical trade and to curb the spread of diseases among animals.You can be allowed to own a toucan if you have a special permit, but they are incredibly hard to get.
These laws are mainly aimed at the protection and humane treatment of exotic birds and animals. Sometimes birds that are not native to the area can wreak havoc on the natural ecosystem by preying on an endangered animal or by spreading a harmful pathogen among the local animal population. In some cases, you can be exempted from the law if you are able to prove that your toucan was sourced ethically and will be well cared for in your home.
The Pros and Cons of Owning a Toucan
Here is a list of the pros and cons of owning a toucan to help you decide whether you should get one or not:
- Toucans have a long lifespan. If cared for properly, they live 20 to 25 years on average. If you are looking for longevity in your pet, toucans are a good option.
- Toucans produce less dander when compared to other birds. This makes them ideal pets for people with allergies or sensitivity to feathers.
- Toucans procured from ethical sources are raised in good conditions and socialized properly. Such toucans can be very affectionate towards their owners.They are also very intelligent and will keep you entertained with their antics all day long.
- Compared to other exotic animals, they have a very basic diet. Fruits comprise the majority of their daily diet.Pellets specially catering to toucans are also available, which provide more balanced nutrition to them.
- Their large bills might look scary up close but they aren’t really built for inflicting damage. Their bites can be unpleasant but will not cause serious harm.
- Owning a toucan is an expensive affair. Their diet, general upkeep and proper maintenance will cost you thousands of dollars over the years.
- You need a lot of space to keep a toucan as a pet. You will also need to make some changes to your home for the safety of the bird.
- There isn’t much known about toucan behavior in home environments and how they can be trained to be better pets. You need to constantly keep an eye on their behavior to make sure they don’t turn destructive.Toucans have been known to be aggressive during their mating season. Aracaris have even been known to aim for people’s eyes when they feel threatened.You need a proper space to be able to care for your toucan properly. If not, it will be very difficult to monitor or control their behavior.
- Toucans poop a lot. You will spend a considerable amount of time cleaning up after them.To add insult to injury, toucans’ diet of fruits like mangoes and blueberries make their poop colorful. Toucan poop bombs can cause permanent stains in your home.
- Toucans are susceptible to the iron levels in their food. Their bodies cannot efficiently process iron and it keeps building up until it proves fatal to the bird.Food pellets meant for toucans help avoid this situation, but owners still have to be very careful with their diet.
Toucans vs Parrots
Parrots are the most popular pet birds and people often compare keeping a toucan as a pet and keeping a parrot as a pet. Here’s how they compare to each other:
- Parrots can be fed a larger variety of foods, many of which can be prepared in advance. Toucans have a much more specific diet which always needs to be served fresh.
- A lot of people clip the wings of their parrots. This is not recommended for toucans, as they can get very destructive if they lose the ability to fly.
- Toucans need a lot more space than parrots. Even if we are talking about a parrot of the same size, it is possible for them to live in a smaller space. Toucans will have issues in smaller spaces.
- Toucans are fast flyers and pretty inquisitive. They also don’t hesitate to attack if they feel scared. Parrots are slower and far easier to train.Thus, parrots are better for households with children, other pets and frequent visitors.
Toucans are rare and exotic, making them highly desirable as exotic pets. However, they need a lot of special care and attention for their well-being. It is also extremely expensive to own a toucan no matter where you live. If you are planning on buying a toucan, make sure you are prepared to invest a lot of money, a huge chunk of your time and a lot of effort into caring for it. With the right resources and knowledge, you can provide an amazing home for this unique bird.