Originally published in Pet Gazette, March/April 2016
Pet birds are an increasingly popular household pet in the United States. In fact, statistically, they fall just behind dogs and cats. When most hear the phrase “pet bird”, they automatically conjure up a mental image of a friendly small budgie, or a larger more intimidating macaw. However, parrots are not the only type of bird kept as pets.
Toucans are popular among a smaller subset of avian enthusiasts. Toucans can range in size from small – 13 inches from beak to tail like the green aracari – to large – 23 inches from tip to tail like the toco toucan; and provide a unique pet experience. There are three defined breakdowns of toucans; toucanet, aracari, and toucan. Toucanets are the family of smaller species, while aracaris are compromised of the medium size birds, and toucans are the largest of the birds in the species.
Life with a toucan of any size is a unique experience that comes with its own unique challenges. Unlike parrots, which eat a wide variety of food, including seed, a manufactured pellet diet, vegetables, fruit, and people food, toucans are primarily fruitavoires. That means the majority of their diet is fruit based. Some of the larger species will differ slightly in their diet, eating varying sources of protein, including pinkie mice.
Just like parrots and other pet birds, toucans can be extremely messy. However, due to their fruit based diets, toucans can be more challenging to clean up after. Toucans do not hold their food and eat it like most parrots do. Instead, they pick up the item they wish to eat, throw their head up, catch the item in their beak, and their serrated tongue pulls the item back into their mouth so it can be swallowed and ingested. As you can imagine, this means that some of their favorite foods, like berries, get the opportunity to ooze and splatter all over the environment as they are being consumed.
Pet toucans are very engaging; they are inquisitive, intelligent, and do bond to their caretakers in the same way other pet birds will. Most hand-raised toucan babies, with regular human interaction, enjoy cuddling with people and interacting with friends and family. Toucans are attracted to shiny objects, and, just like a magpie, will attempt to steal bottle caps, glasses, or anything else that looks appealing.
Compared to parrots, toucans are short lived. The larger species average 20 years, and the smaller species about the same. They are in general more expensive to acquire than parrots, and they are not widely bred, which can make acquisition more challenging. However, life with a toucan is worth the trouble. These engaging and intelligent birds are a unique pet that will certainly enrich your life.