Let's Talk About Birds: Toucans

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This is one of a series presented by the National Aviary, which works to inspire respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.

"Follow your nose!" sings Toucan Sam. If you are a fan of Froot Loops cereal, you are probably singing the jingle. Since the 1960s, Toucan Sam has used his large bill to sell the popular cereal. But do toucans in the wild really follow their noses to find the flavors of fruit?

Toucans live throughout the tropical and sub-tropical regions of southern Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Most toucans are primarily black or green -- none are completely blue like Toucan Sam. Their colorful beaks make them easy to recognize in the wild. The beak of a toucan (made of keratin, like our fingernails) can measure up to a third of the bird's total length. The beak must be light, or the bird would not be able to fly. A honey-combed structure inside the beak gives it lightweight strength and support.

Toucans eat mostly fruit. The long beak enables them to reach berries or seeds at the end of thin branches located high in the rain forest canopy. They also eat insects, small lizards and the occasional nestling bird. The beak has serrated edges, like a butter knife, that is used to mash up large foods.

Like other birds, toucans cannot sweat. Tiny blood vessels in the beak allow excess heat to escape, enabling toucans to cool off in the heat and humidity of the tropics.

The National Aviary is home to two species of toucan. Our green aracari is one of the smallest toucans in the world, measuring 12-16 inches in length. She stars in many of our education programs and lives off-exhibit. Our two keel-billed toucans live in the Cloud Forest exhibit along with our two-toed sloth. Much larger than the green aracari, keel-billed toucans are known for their multi-colored beaks. They nest inside tree cavities, using their feet and long beaks to widen the cavity. The female lays one to four eggs, and both parents help to raise the chicks.

As is the case for most animals of the rainforest, toucan habitat is shrinking. Among other destructive practices, rainforests are being strip-mined for bauxite, a raw material used to make aluminum. Fortunately, aluminum is one of the most recyclable metals on the planet. Used aluminum can be recycled and back on store shelves in about 60 days. Recycling aluminum can significantly reduce rain forest degradation. At the National Aviary, we like to say "Recycling One Can Saves Toucans!"

By recycling aluminum products, you also save many other valuable rain forest products, such as coffee, pineapple, banana, vanilla, chocolate and many medications. If you want to learn more about toucans and how you can help protect rain forests, join us on Jan. 21, Martin Luther King Day, for Rainforest Adventure Family Camp. You and your family will enjoy a private rain forest feeding, meet some of our rain forest education birds, enjoy a rain forest-inspired treat and frolic through our own indoor free-flight rain forest. Visit the tropics without leaving Pittsburgh! More information can be found at www.aviary.org.


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