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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Toucan- A cute, cruel, smart and friendly bird

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Birds are highly adapted, colourful, and skilled creatures of nature. They carry considerable variations in morphological features, distribution, reproductive and social behaviors, friendliness etc. from each other. They add to the beauty and dynamism of the natural environment through their presence and make it lively through their varying calls. Their beauties, dynamism, behaviors, and varying calls fascinate a number of persons to become lifelong bird watchers. Blessed with the ability of flight, strong lungs and heart many birds fly up to very long distances during their migration and make the atmosphere vibrant with their specific calls and singing notes. Among all the birds of nature toucan deserves special significance.

A Toucan bird in the wild
Photo Ramphastos aerial
Toucan is a cute and friendly bird with a small rounded tail and a long, red and amazing bill. It belongs to family Ramphastidae of the zoological order Piciformes belonging to the genus Ramphastos.There are 37 species in Ramphastidae and the largest birds is known as Toco toucan. The bird under study is Ramphastos aerial.

Morphological features and adaptations
Toucans are large birds with rounded tails. These birds can move their tails in different directions owing to the specific engineering of their tail bones. Though large enough, the bill of a toucan is very light as it is made of keratin, the substance of which our nails are made. The large bill of toucan is supported by thin rods of bones. It is bright red to orange in colour with a black band and a large black patch. The length of an average bird remains 60 to 65 cm and the bill grows up to 20 cm. The tongue inside the bill is extended to its full size. It is flat and 55 to 65 cm in length in the largest toucan bird.

The bill of toucan is highly efficient and accurate food gathering organ. The bird uses its bill in many different ways like picking a fruit and tossing it into the throat, catching young ones of other birds out of their holes. Thus toucan not only eats the fruits like berries and nuts, it eats the flesh of other birds as well. The bird uses its bill as an armor to threaten the other birds also. It also uses its bill to frighten the parents of nestlings, and ones the parents escape away from the nest due to the fear of toucan, it attacks the nestlings and eats them away. Thus toucan is not only a cute bird, it is cruel also.

The long red bill of toucan remained a matter of debate among naturalists of the world. Darwin was of the opinion that the long red bill was meant for attracting the mates in addition to serving the purpose of eating fruits and nuts. According to current day researchers the bill of toucan is a large insulated appendage having extensive network of blood vessels close to the surface. As such it might be an important tool for helping toucans in cooling themselves. Researchers have pointed out that the colour of the bill goes dark at low or cooler temperatures. It shows lesser supply of blood to the bills. Thus bill of a toucan serves as a heat release organ. Bills of ducks and geese too serve the similar function but not to the extent the bill of toucan does.

The long bill of a toucan bird

The plumage of the bird is black. There is a white patch under the throat. The upper tail coverts and the under tail coverts are white and red respectively. Legs are blue to grayish blue in colour. Feet have yoke-toed arrangement with two toes facing forward and two facing backward. This arrangement provides strong grip to the bird on branches of trees.
Habit and Habitat
Ramphastos are mainly non-forest birds. However the Toco toucan (Ramphastos toco) is a forest dwelling bird. These birds can be found in the semi-open habitats with scattered trees. Though these birds are mainly found in low lands but can also be seen up to 1750 m height.
Toucans are original inhabitants of South America, though they may have developed their populations in many different countries. Ornithologists report its presence in northern and eastern Bolivia, extreme south eastern Peru, northern Argentina, eastern and central Paraguay, eastern and southern Brazil, along the lower Amazon river, and coastal regions of Guanas.

Special features
Toucans are the noises birds when they dwell in a forest. Their croaks are similar to that of a frog and can be heard from about half a km. These birds have been attached to a number of mythologies. These are associated with evil spirits in Central and South America. Some people think these birds as incarnations of demons. In some areas of South America, people believe that the father of a new child must not eat toucan flesh as it might bewitch the new borne child and cause it to die off.
Nesting behavior and reproduction
Toucans live in holes of tree trunks. One may be astonished to think as how a bird with such a long bill can live inside a hole of a tree trunk. But it is simple. Toucan can fold its bill and can rest it on its back with the help of the movable neck. Similarly it can bend its tail to come under its belly and at the same time it can wrap its feathers around the whole of its body to look like a ball of feathers. Some toucans have been spotted nesting in holes of earth banks and terrestrial termite nests.

Both male and female toucan birds are similar in shape, size and body colour. Even the bills of both the birds remain the same. The female toucan lays 2 to 4 eggs. The incubation takes 17 to 20 days. The young ones develop slowly and the bill takes several months in reaching its full size. The young ones leave the nest after 8 to 9 weeks.

Toucans can be trained as pets if lifted up directly from their nests and reared like young babies. They need spacious cages to move about because of their active nature. Toys should be placed in its cage to provide stimulation. The life of a toucan in captivity has been recorded to be 26 years. However, it is against law to keep a bird in a cage.

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