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Can Toucans Talk?

by Lucy

Birds have always been popular as pets, but no one quite catches the eye like a toucan. You see, these spectacular creatures have a distinct characteristic that makes them stand out in a crowd – their long, brightly colored bill. These big beautiful beaks may have inspired many a talking cartoon character, but do they talk in real life?

Can toucans talk? Toucans do mimic sounds, but they are not as proficient as parrots or ravens at mimicry. Toucans have a hard time mimicking the same sounds humans make and therefore cannot speak words like us.

To give you a better understanding of what makes toucans so different than parrots and most pet birds, we’ll dive a little deeper into the subject of mimicry and toucans as a species below.

What Makes Toucans So Special?

Toucans are members of the Ramphastidae family of birds and the Piciformes order. There are about 40 different subspecies of toucans. They can be divided into three categories which are the toucans, the toucanets, and the aracaris. These beautiful, tropical birds are usually found in the mountainous and rainforest regions of Southern Mexico, Bolivia, and Argentina.

The lifespan of a toucan is 20 years. And toucans in captivity live well over 25 years. The only problem that you commonly find in toucans is the disease hemochromatosis, which occurs due to excess iron storage in the liver. 

The toucan is also zygodactylous, which basically means two toes pointing forward and two pointing backward. It is a trait that they share with other birds like parrots, and it is this foot structure that provides better strength and stability when toucans move through the dense branches, moving in and out of tree cavities and hopping from branch to branch. 

Now, let’s talk about their most prominent feature, that protruding bill. The bills of the toucan vary in color. They can be of many different colors, from black to bright and multi-colored. Also, the bills of toucans are light, contrary to popular belief. They consist of a layer of trabeculae (bone) covered by a thick layer of keratin.

The toucan bill serves many functions, as it is thought to be helpful for species recognition, provides assistance with the procurement of food from hard-to-reach places, and assists in courtship rituals. The large bill of the toucan has toothed or serrated edges, which allows the bird to grasp, catch, or even skin its food. And, the most interesting fact about the toucan bird is that, compared to its body, it has the largest bill in the world.

Do Toucans Talk?

No, the toucan doesn’t talk at all. They don’t generally scream or make loud noises like parrots either. But, the toucan is no less entertaining than your average parrot. You see, they do use vocalization to attract mates. The noise levels that toucans make differ from species to species. Some toucans growl, purr, or click, while other toucans, such as the Swainson toucan, can emit very high-pitched sounds too. 

It is believed that the word ‘toucan’ comes from the sound the bird makes. Toucans combine their vocal sounds with tapping and clattering noises from their bills. You see, the sound they make often resembles a frog’s croak or a dog’s bark. And, some mountainous toucans even make sounds like the braying of a donkey.

In short, it is safe to say that the toucan is not famous for its silver tongue. You won’t hear a toucan calling out “hello” like you might a parrot or raven.

Do Toucans Make Good Pets?

Many aviculturists fawn over toucans far more than the budgie or parrot. The reason is that toucans can be very affectionate birds and can even pick up a lot of tricks. These fantastic creatures are natural entertainers. In the wild, these social birds are often found playing with their counterparts. 

You may even witness your toucan hopping around, doing some vertical flying, even catching a grape that is being thrown from across the room with its long bill. So, what the toucan lacks in verbal communication, it makes up for with flair and personality. 

It may be impossible to believe that toucans make great pets, as they are not common as domestic pets. The price range for buying a toucan is about $20,000 or more. So, you can imagine that not everyone who would love to house such a fantastic breed can do so without causing a sizable dent in their wallets.

But, you will find many testimonials or videos on YouTube of toucan parents who vow that toucans make lovely companions. They are affectionate, playful, and friendly. Toucans enjoy playing with toys and require their owners to play with them too. Once you have a toucan that trusts you and has bonded with you, you will realize that they depend upon you with complete faith. 

They do allow pet guardians to hold, pet or stroke them. While it is true that all animals are distinct when it comes to individual behavior, it is generally reported that the larger species of toucan require more personal space. The small species of toucans, the aracaris, do not mind cuddling with their pet parents. They relish spending time with their human family. And, the more they spend time with you and your family, the more they start to make human sounds too. 

But, you have to understand that toucans are high-maintenance pets. They require large spaces to live. If you try to house a toucan in a smaller area, you will get one angry bird on your hands. It may thrash and pluck out its tail feathers as a sign of depression. Some toucans have been known to bite when stressed.

Furthermore, toucans are frugivores. That is, they mainly eat fresh fruits. Yet, they occasionally enjoy a treat of smaller bird’s eggs or a munch on a crunchy insect. However, as toucans can suffer from excessive iron storage, you always have to keep a very close check on their diet, ensuring that they do not consume anything with too much iron. 

And, toucans don’t do well when you house them in aviaries with smaller-sized birds. They can be rambunctious and resort to bullying, or even eating birds that are smaller than them, as they are omnivorous.

In short, these birds can be very friendly, and you may love them. But, captivity isn’t something that always agrees with toucans as they have very delicate constitutions. And, even something as insignificant as giving them bottled water can be fatal, as it can lead to an iron surplus in their system. Additionally, they require a lot of your time, patience, money, and space.

If you want to know more, we found a great video from BirdTracks on YouTube!

Related Questions

As mentioned earlier, toucans aren’t found in many aviaries, as they are very expensive birds to buy. But, there are still toucan guardians out there who would like to know as much as they possibly can about these exotic creatures. So, you can read on to find answers to some commonly asked questions.

Does It Hurt When Toucans Bite?

Toucans have pretty large bills, and it is often the bill of a toucan that is enough to scare a predator away. But, in truth, toucans do not have a lot of leverage in their bills as it is pretty lightweight and soft. Even so, toucans use their bills to grab prey, and a bite from a toucan can damage the skin enough to break through and require stitches.

However, it isn’t the bite of a toucan that you need to be careful about. Toucans tend to poke their bills right into the eyes of their foes. We’re willing to bet that’s not a pleasant experience.

Are Toucans Messy Birds?

Toucans are fruit eaters, and boy do they love eating. Toucans need regular access to fresh food, as they can eat as frequently as every fifteen minutes. Plus, these birds have an amazing metabolism, which means that they poop as often as parrots

When they eat with their large bills, they tend to fling a lot of food around. And then you have barely processed fruit-poop that you’ll need to clean up a few times a day. Altogether, you get a big bird that is pretty good at creating a mess.

How Do Toucans Drink Water?

It goes without saying that the toucan bill isn’t something that will fit into a shallow bowl. So, you have to ensure that you provide your toucan with an appropriately-sized water bowl that will allow your bird to drink as much water as it needs.

There have been cases of toucan death due to dehydration as pet parents were clueless that their bird was unable to drink from the water bowl they were given. Also, when it comes to water, you need to make sure that you only offer your bird distilled water, free of most of its iron, so that your bird doesn’t end up with excess iron storage.

How Big Should A Toucan Cage Be?

Toucans, particularly the larger breed such as the toco toucans, need ample space in their cage. The standard size of a toucan cage is around 10×12 feet. You see, these birds are high-energy creatures who love to move about, climb, and fly from one spot to the other. 

Some breeders will go ahead and say that you can fit your toucan into an indoor aviary large enough for a big macaw, but pet parents with years of experience recommend otherwise. Toucans don’t do too well in confined places. When you keep a bird like a toucan in captivity, you should be prepared to provide it with abundant space and mental stimulation through toys, treats, and playtime.

Up Next: Do Birds Kiss? (And What It Means)

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