The toucan is a tropical bird that is well known for its large, colorful bill. It is native to Central and South America, where it lives in rain forests or other warm, wood areas. Toucans are actually a family of birds, called Ramphastidae, consisting of about 40 species. Frequently photographed and drawn, they are a popular attraction for tourists and visiting birdwatchers.
Toucans range in size from about 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm). Their bills, which can be brightly colored or somewhat dull, may be up to 9 inches (23 cm) long in the largest species. Most toucans also have a rather long tail. Most species have patches of brightly colored, bare skin around the eyes. Toucan feathers are mostly black or dark green, but are often highlighted by white and bright red and yellow feathers.
The biggest and most well-recognized toucans belong to the genus Ramphastos, which contains seven species. The toco toucan, which has a bright orange bill marked with black and streaks of red, is probably the best known member of this family and perhaps of all toucans. The 10 members of the genus Aracaris tend to be smaller and have a sleeker body. There are about 12 species of the smaller toucanets, in two genera. There are also four large species of mountain toucan, some of which have unique feather colors among all the toucans.
Toucans usually nest in natural holes in tree trunks, but have been known to take over the nests of other birds. They often appear in small flocks, with up to about 12 members. Toucans are monogamous, but some species may raise their young in groups. Loud and aggressive by nature, toucan flocks often cause other nearby birds to leave the area when they arrive.
The unique toucan bill is not as heavy or as thick as it might seem and consists of a hard outer layer that covers a network of thin supporting bones. Why they evolved to be so long is not clear. The bill may help the birds reach hanging fruit on small branches, or it might intimidate other birds. It's also possible that these long bills have a social function, alerting toucans to other members of their own species.
Toucans also have a unique way of eating. They grasp or tear fruit, the most important part of their diet, and hold it in the tip of their bill. They then toss their head back, and the food goes into the air before landing at the base of the bill, where the birds can swallow it.