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Dietary Habits of the Toucan

By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: May 22, 2018
Dietary Habits of the Toucan

Toucans are one of the most recognizable birds in the world thanks to their characteristic and very colorful well-developed beak. Toucans are arboreal, that is, they live in trees. They also have a very long tongue, and their feet have four claws, with two claws pointing forward and two pointing backwards; they're classified together with woodpeckers.

These birds can be found throughout the American continent, from North America down to South America, except in the US and Canada. They owe their name to the word tukana, from Tupi, which was one of the native languages of Brazil.

Despite the fact that not everyone can have a toucan as a pet, and that it's very difficult to get hold of one, if you've got a toucan or know someone who does this AnimalWised article on the diet of the toucan will be worth a read. You can read the information below.

You may also be interested in: Dietary Habits of the Gorilla

Basic diet of the toucan

Taking into account that their digestive system is based on absorption, toucans mainly feed on fruits, because whatever they consume is released as waste just a few hours later. Some fruits commonly consumed by toucans are:

  • Apple
  • Melon
  • Peach
  • Banana
  • Pear
  • Mango
  • Kiwi
  • Papaya
  • Tuna
  • Strawberry

Some of the most recommended vegetables for a toucan's diet are:

  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • Carrot
  • Corn
  • Pea
  • Chayote
Dietary Habits of the Toucan - Basic diet of the toucan

Supplementary diet of the toucan

While fruits are the main staple of their diet, toucans can also be fed wholemeal bread and the meat of mice or mealworms to supplement and balance their diet. In the wild they can consume small lizards, insects, the eggs of other birds and even pigeons. They use their beak as a pincer to reach their food.

When it comes to feeding a captive toucan, half or 60% of their food can be chopped fruit or vegetables and the other half or remaining 40% can be food supplements. You should always be wary of iron levels, because it can be harmful for the bird. Such supplementary food could be, for instance, boiled rice dumplings with vegetables.

Dietary Habits of the Toucan - Supplementary diet of the toucan

Other facts about the dietary habits of the toucan

Toucans don't eat very much. Rather, they're more than satisfied with eating two good portions of food per day. You always need to provide toucans with clean water, even though they're animals that don't drink much.

These birds don't consume much water, because the required liquids are obtained from the fruit they eat. This is one of the reasons why a toucan's diet should be based on these foods - to keep it hydrated. As such, there's no need to be alarmed if a toucan doesn't want to drink, since this is completely normal.

Dietary Habits of the Toucan - Other facts about the dietary habits of the toucan

The toucan's digestive system

Toucans, unlike most birds, do not have crops - also called craws -, the pouch-shaped part of the alimentary tract in which food is stored. This is why they're unable to digest seeds. With this in mind, you must be careful that your bird doesn't eat seeds from any of the fruit and vegetables that you feed it, removing all the seeds beforehand. The toucan's stomach is small, which is why the food is discarded as waste so quickly after being ingested.

Earlier in this article we spoke about monitoring the levels of iron in a toucan's diet, because they're prone to accumulating iron in the liver. To control this, make sure that half the fruit consumed by the toucan is a mixture of low iron fruit such as papaya (one of this beautiful animal's favorites). Don't feed them too much of one fruit or vegetable and ensure variety in their diet.

Dietary Habits of the Toucan - The toucan's digestive system

If you want to read similar articles to Dietary Habits of the Toucan, we recommend you visit our Healthy diets category.

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Janelle Tsao
I'd like to make a few corrections & key adjustments that need to be noted to this article.

Toucans have a high moisture required digestive system, therefore they not only must have access to water at all times, but their drinking sources must be purified or filtered. Toucans will stop to take long sips of water all throughout the day, especially if they are consuming dry, low-iron pellets. Sadly, some toucan owners don't provide water due to the misconception. They believe they get hydration from the fruit, it is not simply enough. My toucan drinks approx 1/4-1/3 cup per day! This is significant for his little body.

Emphasizing CLEAN feeders. Bacteria can grow on fruit left out over 2 hours & water bowls must be washed in hot water daily to avoid contamination.

The food list:
Dragonfruit, organic pears, organic cherries, organic sweet potatoes and organic berries - blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and pomegranate are all excellent choices & loved by most toucans.
They will also eat palm fruit, grapes, fresh figs & butternut squash.

Tomatoes and all citrus fruit should NOT be given to toucans, it is too acidic & are not suitable for them. They should also NOT be fed tuna. It is high in mercury & canned foods are generally exposed to BPA toxins. They do not & should not consume much vegetables. They will eat some plants in the wild, but its not likely. Some peas are OK but corn isn't really suitable nor is it digestible.

Happy this article is strong on iron absorption awareness! Scholar research suggest common captive toucan diseases like Hemochromatosis (iron storage disease), are due commercial pellet food or dog kibble (disgraceful!).

The article mentions no seeds, but also no nuts.

Supplementary foods should NOT be boiled rice dumplings with vegetables. Bread, crackers, pasta are all unhealthy. Bleached flours, yeast, salt, sugar, baking additives, preservatives, food coloring dyes should all be avoided.
All processed human food is NOT recommended for these sensitive creatures. Their survival and health overall critically relies on their diet and habitat.
Jason
This article contains some inaccuracies. One of these involves the feeding of papaya. Papaya is high in Vitamin C which increases the uptake of iron in the liver and, therefore, contributes to iron storage disease. So papaya should not be fed in large quantities. A highly diverse whole food diet is critical but too much of any one item should not be recommended.
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Jason,

We have made a clarification as you're right in saying one shouldn't feed their Toucan too much of one food as they need a variety. However, while ascorbic acid is generally accepted to have a key role in the absorption of dietary nonheme iron, these birds will happily eat papaya all day if that is what is available to them in the wild. Also, many of the fruits they eat throughout a day will also have high levels of vitamin C, such as Mango.

Toucans in captivity are usually supplemented with pellets. In the wild, they can eat insects and even larger prey as they are opportunistically omnivorous, but are mainly frugivorous. Do you think a day when they eat only fruit and not so much protein would be harmful to them in terms of iron absorption? Perhaps the lack of iron in their diet means there is little iron to absorb so the ascorbic acid will do little harm?

We're not contradicting you, we're just interested to know if there are any studies you know of about Toucans eating too much vitamin C. Please feel free to share information if you have it.

Thanks for the input!
Jason
Unfortunately, when it comes to avian nutrition, research is greatly lacking in all areas. After breeding and raising these birds for over 20 years, I agree that the iron they encounter in the wild may be different than what you’d find in captive diets. This is why we completely discontinued the use of pellets and feed a diverse diet of fruits and insects and, as a result, have seen no more occurrences of hemochromatosis in our birds.
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Jason,

Yes, we struggled to find much research on the matter, we weren't sure if we were missing something. That is very interesting to hear you replaced pellets with insects, it does seem this should be able to supplement their need for protein without adding iron. Once again, very interesting to hear and thank you for the reply.
Janelle
Jason, I can't help but agree with you but I also agree with the key point the administrador made in saying: perhaps feed foods higher in vitamin C apart from any selections with higher iron content (i.e. crickets, eggs or worms)? I've noticed toucans eat a lot of palm berries / palm tree fruits in the wild. They're not sold in grocery stores here in California, but I do see them on palm trees naturally. Haven't tried feeding them to our toucan yet. We only use Mazuri's low iron pellet and have it available to our keel-billed as an available option throughout the day. What are your thoughts on that product?
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