Status of the captive population - While nearly half of the 41 species have been bred at one time or another in captivity, there has been precious little sustained, predictable, multi-generation breeding at any location, including Riverbanks Zoo. This is particularly true with the larger Ramphastos genus. Historically, most breeding pairs of large toucans have produced offspring for only a single year before disaster strikes one or both parents, and production comes to an end. Ironically, if an institution is fortunate enough to keep a single pair of birds going long enough to breed multiple times - as we have been able to do recently with a pair of both Toco and Keelbilled toucans - it is extremely difficult to find unrelated candidates to pair with their offspring. Very few locations breed these birds on a regular basis.
Sources of birds & acclimatization procedures - Most imported birds tend to be quite tame and acclimated to humans. We believe this can be attributed to the fact that a majority of them were collected from the nest cavity and hand raised. Although this tameness unfortunately makes them more attractive to the general public as pets, it probably eases their behavioral adjustment to life in captivity. Ironically - and contrary to what one might expect - parent-reared captive raised ramphastids can be extremely nervous and flighty.
Feeding wild caught birds, getting newly acquired birds onto captive diet - A major downside to acquisition of imported ramphastids is that one has no idea what they have been fed since capture. Only a few months on an iron-rich diet is sufficient time to cause permanent damage to their liver. Excessive iron accumulation in the liver (AKA iron storage disease, or hemosiderosis) will be addressed later.
2. HOUSING, ENCLOSURE, & ENVIRONMENTAL REQUIREMENTS
/ humidity - Although many species of ramphastids are native to tropical
lowlands, there are some – the mountain toucans (Andigena spp.) – that
routinely encounter near-freezing
temperatures. Over the years, we have found that our ramphastids can endure
temperatures around 20° Fahrenheit with no ill effects, assuming four
Natural light – With the genus Ramphastos, natural light is virtually essential to maintain good condition and thus encourage breeding. With the toucanets and aracaris, natural light seems to be less important, since several species have been bred without it.
Water quality - Most wild ramphastids rarely descend to the ground. Some field researchers have speculated that these birds frequently drink rainwater trapped in the crotch of a tree. Since the water is often heavily stained by tannins from the bark of the tree, there has been some further speculation that these compounds help reduce iron absorption and thus the incidence of iron storage disease. Riverbanks has completed data collection in a study on the efficacy of tea in reducing iron absorption in European starlings. At this time, the analysis and write up is still pending.
Air filtration – This is of course an issue only for birds kept indoors. No special filter media (as with penguins, for instance) are required, although as previously mentioned, large ramphastids almost never breed indoors.
Sewer, waste disposal – Because of the large amount of fruit contained in a typical diet, the floor and water pool of any ramphastid enclosure should be cleaned thoroughly on a daily basis. Ideally, the floor should be a well-drained concrete slab. Since these birds spend very little time on the ground, a smooth, easily cleaned surface is the most practical. Nevertheless, in a display situation, aesthetic issues may dictate a soil substrate. In that case, good drainage is essential. Standing water should never be tolerated, since it provides a breeding ground for bacterial and fungal organisms.
(isolation) cage set-up
The minimum dimensions suggested for a ramphastid hospital / quarantine cage are 2 feet wide x 6 feet long x 6 feet high (50 cm wide x 1.8 m long x 1.8 m high). For aracaris and toucanets, this space would be comfortable. For large (Ramphastos) species such as the toco, keel-billed and chestnut-mandibled toucans, it would be ideal to use a longer cage. However, if the bird is calm, even this small space is acceptable for short periods of time.
For quarantine, it is important to provide toucans with very simple, straight perches that they can easily negotiate: minimum diameter of 1 inch (2.5 cm); maximum diameter of 2.5 inches (6.25 cm). Complex arrangements of branches and twigs are not necessary. Indeed, they get in the way when one is trying to catch the bird for examinations etc., making the process unnecessarily prolonged and stressful for the bird.
Perches should be made of natural, bark-covered wood, rather than smooth wood such as a dowel. The uneven surfaces of bark are healthier for the birds’ feet. The toucan’s beak is also kept in good condition, free of dirt and food, as the bird rubs it against the bark after feeding and bathing. One perch should be securely fixed at the front of the aviary approximately 18 inches (45 cm) below the roof, depending somewhat on the species of toucan. And one perch should be fixed at the back of the aviary, slightly higher above the ground than the front perch. When frightened, the bird will then be able to retreat to the back of the aviary, the higher perch providing reassurance.
Toucans may be misted carefully from a water hose or a plant sprayer, raining fine water droplets down onto them. For a bird that is in good health (lively, feeding well, active and bites hard), this will enhance its physical and emotional condition. Since quarantine aviaries do not usually have access to direct sunlight, the bird should be rained upon for only about 2 seconds to prevent it from getting cold; and it should be misted only once or twice a week.
If the bird is in poor condition, wetting it will make things worse and should be avoided. Consult with the zoo’s veterinarian before misting any newly arrived toucans.
Toucans that have been hand reared are obviously much calmer than parent reared birds and need little, if any, modifications to their aviary to protect against bill damage. At Riverbanks, we have found that toucans hand reared from about 3 weeks of age, mature into birds that are both calm and successful breeders. Being hand reared appears to make no difference to their ability to breed and rear chicks.
During the breeding season, males of the large species may become quite aggressive towards the females. Vigorous bouts of “bill fencing” and chasing are common. If the male is particularly persistent, the female may need a “hide box” or heavily planted area where she can escape his attentions. We actually lost a breeding female Toco toucan to stress and physical injury inflicted by her mate in just such a situation. As with other types of birds, if the male comes into breeding condition prior to his mate, the female can be put at grave risk. There is a very fine line between normal “jousting” and potentially injurious pursuit.
Containment barriers – Welded wire mesh is certainly the most common containment barrier for enclosures. In the case of ramphastids, the wire size openings are critically important. After many years of experience holding and breeding ramphastids in a multitude of enclosures covered with this material, we have reached the conclusion that it is not acceptable.
Anyone who works with ramphastids (and hornbills, for that matter) should be aware that, despite its durable appearance, their beak is extremely vulnerable to damage. Indeed, in the case of the toucans it consists only of a thin keratin shell surrounding spongy, blood-filled tissue. As evidence of this fact, we have all seen many captive toucans with part of their upper or lower mandible missing. Even within the confines of a “Sky Kennel” shipping crate, it is possible for severe, irreparable damage to occur if the bill is jammed through the holes in the welded wire door.
Young ramphastids that have just fledged are at even greater risk. The keratin layer covering their mandibles is soft and eminently damageable. As mentioned above, having been parentreared, they are likely to be extremely nervous, and quite clumsy as well. If frightened or chased, they will fly headlong into any enclosure barrier. When this barrier is rigid welded wire of any size opening, it will invariably result in damage to the upper - and sometimes lower - mandible as well.
We have found
Zoomesh™ to be a far better
material for several reasons:
As a solid barrier, glass does not represent the same “penetration” hazard as welded wire mesh, but it can still cause severe beak and head trauma if impacted. High-tension (piano) wire probably represents the second best alternative, although there is still ample risk of impact injury with this medium. Additionally, piano wire is very expensive from an engineering standpoint and impractical for use around all four sides of an enclosure.
Capture and handling systems – We have never utilized dedicated shift or trap cages to manage our ramphastids at Riverbanks. These heavy-bodied birds tend to fly in a relatively straight line, and as such they are not difficult to net if you are quick-of-hand. All of our enclosures have been designed or modified to accommodate their tendency to fly into barriers and to minimize the potential for damage. However, the possibility of injury during catch-up still exists. Our policy is to catch them up only when absolutely necessary, and to minimize the time taken to do so.
Shelter requirements – As already stated, ramphastids are much more cold hearty than commonly thought. Nevertheless, they must have access to a sheltered space to protect them from rain, wind, and prolonged, below-freezing cold weather. We suggest roofing at least 25% of the top of the enclosure, preferably with transparent or translucent panels, to allow light penetration. Toucanets and aracaris often roost in their nest log, which should be located under a roof. The larger ramphastids do not exhibit this behavior, and in our experience they often spend the night on relatively exposed perches, as long as it is not raining. We provide “heat boxes” with thermostat/rheostat controlled 250-watt infrared heat lamps in all of our outdoor aviaries. Perhaps due to our birds’ excellent overall condition, they are rarely used.
Enrichment program - Jay Robinson / Riverbanks Zoo
devices have proven to be an
excellent tool in combating boredom
in toucans, and are particularly useful
when a toucan is housed alone. Such devices
are intended to encourage natural behaviors
and simulate feeding techniques that they
would acquire in the wild. In a planted
aviary these devices also help to direct
any destructive attention away from delicate
Bamboo Feeder – Another successful device that can be made easily is a Bamboo or PVC feeder. Drill a dozen half-inch holes in a foot-long piece of Bamboo or PVC. and insert a favorite food item such as grapes or soaked Science Diet dog kibble in each hole. Hang the feeder near a perch with a small piece of rope. Once the toucans discover the item, it will not take long for them to empty it, either by whacking the device so the food items drop to the ground or dexterously removing each individual piece with their beak. This device is easily mastered, and thus should only be used occasionally.
Toucanets and aracaris can be kept with robust birds of a similar, or preferably larger, size. However, ramphastids must be matched very carefully with their companions since they will watch for an opportunity to kill or injure unsuspecting birds; and chicks of any species will be regarded as food. Small toucans could probably be accommodated with birds such as boat-billed herons, motmots, sun bitterns, and troupials.
The larger ramphastids, such as toco and keel-billed toucans, should not be kept with any other birds except very large, tough species such as seriemas and curasows. Even these combinations should only be attempted in the knowledge that the toucans will try to dominate the aviary, considerably reducing the breeding prospects of any other species. Exceptionally large enclosures, of the kind only found in a few zoos, could hold multiple pairs of ramphastids and other avian species. But again, one should not be surprised if the toucans eventually use their serrated bills and aggressive nature to prey upon the other birds. Toucans are semi-predatory. They should be accommodated with other specimens very carefully indeed, or given sole occupancy of an aviary.
Trunks that have been decomposing for several years may be soft enough for the birds to excavate themselves. But normally, the most practical approach is to hollow out a palm trunk yourself using a chainsaw.
For large species such as toco and keel-billed toucans, select a length of trunk about 12 inches (30 cm) wide and 40 inches (1 m) long. Using a chainsaw, excavate the log from both ends until the interior has been cut away. Cut an entrance hole 4- 5 inches in diameter (10 – 12.5 cm), located a few inches below the top of the log. Seal the cavity by screwing and gluing a disc of plywood to the top and bottom of the log. The internal cavity should be approximately 10 inches wide (25 cm), and it 40 cm 11 cm 21 cm should descend to anywhere from 16 – 30 inches below the entrance hole (40 cm – 75 cm). Presumably, deeper logs would be beneficial for nervous pairs; and the larger diameter chambers would help chicks remain cooler than if forced together by a narrow log. For large clutches of 4 chicks, the extra space provided by a 10 inch diameter log could be essential in preventing overheating. For aracaris and toucanets, a slightly smaller cavity can be made.
Locate the nest log in a high, sheltered place, away from direct sun and rain. It can be helpful to leave about 12 inches (30 cm) between the top of the log and the aviary roof: toucans spend some time perching on top of the log as they start to get into breeding condition.
In the wild, toucans usually have to excavate their nest cavities in soft, rotten tree trunks. In captivity, encouraging the same behavior can help the pair to bond, somewhat, and reach breeding condition together. To give the birds the illusion that they are excavating their own cavity, in the Spring, the log can be packed with a loose mixture of mud, wood shavings and sphagnum moss. This is beneficial for new pairs, although for pairs that breed regularly, aggression seems to be comparatively low, and this device is not as important.
The breeding season is approximately April to September. One clutch is the norm for Ramphastos species, although a settled pair in prime condition can fledge two, or rarely 3, broods unaided in a single year. The small ramphastids are generally more prolific.
Eggs: 2-4 white; incubation about 16 days for the small species, about 18 days for the large species.
For the first 4 – 7 days, the chicks are fed only live food by the parents. The best live food appears to be 1 inch long crickets. The crickets should be offered in a smooth sided container, fixed to a stout perch. If the container is 12 inches deep (30 cm) the crickets are unable to escape, and remain available for the parent toucans. The cricket feeder should be checked frequently and never allowed to become empty during the rearing period.
In as little as 4 days after hatching, the young toucan may start receiving other foods from its parents. One of the most favored (stage 2) foods is soaked Hills Science Canine Kibble, followed by the fruits and other pellets of the adult diet. One or 2 pinkie mice can also be provided per chick per day until the bird is self-feeding at about 10 weeks of age. It is very important to provide plenty of all of these rearing foods, although the pinkie mice should be moderated until a better understanding of iron storage disease is established.
Occasionally we have allowed Keel-billed chicks to remain in with a breeding pair through part of a subsequent breeding cycle. However, this practice would not normally be recommended.
Age to maturity
5. ARTIFICIAL INCUBATION AND HAND REARING
A 1cc syringe can be used to feed young toucan chicks. A liquidy diet such as one of the proprietary hand rearing formulas originally developed for parrots is a good source of rounded nutrition. Kaytee Exact Original Formula is a suitable product for this purpose, although any of the other major brands are likely to be equally good. The very first feed should be mostly liquid (distilled water or an oral electrolyte such as Pedialyte™) with only a very light sprinkle of Kaytee. For all of the other feeds, the Kaytee must be prepared, (and progressively thickened) according to the manufacturer's instructions. Some keepers mix a small amount of pureed fruit with the Kaytee, which probably does no harm. However, the presence or absence of the pureed fruit seems to have no effect on chick development; and one would think that it is preferable not to add pureed fruit to the proprietary product.
Weigh the chick at the same time each day, and look for a daily weight gain of 10-15%. Adjust the bird's food intake if the weight gain is less than about 6% or more than 18% for 2 consecutive days. This can be done by changing the amount per feed and/or the time interval between feeds. Over a period of several days, you should see an average daily weight gain of at least 10%, especially when the bird is older than 8 days and eating solid foods.
After each feed, it is important to clean food residue from inside and outside the chick's mouth with a small piece of moistened cloth or a Q-Tip™. If this is not done, food residue may bad and help to give rise to the fungal infection Candida.
Day 7 onwards:
Selective food pans could be designed to prevent the large toucan bill from entering, while admitting smaller bills of bitterns and motmots for example. Carefully selected wire mesh can be fixed over the food pan to achieve this. Although such solutions can work, they are awkward to manage and imperfect depending on the species involved. It would not work for boat-billed herons for example, and generally, anything that compromises normal feeding behavior needs to be regarded carefully.
times fed per day
Due to their oversized beak, drinking from a water pan presents quite a challenge to the large ramphastids. Given the choice, toucans prefer to take rain drops from roofing and plant leaves; or they drink from puddles on the aviary floor before using the man-made water dish. This highlights the need for thorough aviary hygiene, and especially the need for good drainage. Otherwise, aviaries with natural substrate floors can give rise to pools of dirty water, very possible mixed with wild mammal feces and urine – a perfectly deadly combination, especially for toucans.
of large pellets:
of small pellets:
In the maintenance toucan diet, about 8 pieces of soaked kibble can be fed to one large (Ramphastos) toucan each day, depending somewhat on activity level and ambient air temperature. The dog kibble is fed to satiation when the adults are feeding chicks. See Reproduction / chicks.
Diet by weight; pellets and kibble measured by dry weight.
The exact composition of the fruit mixture is probably less important than achieving some variety: at least 3 types of fruit are strongly recommended. This diet is based on apples due to availability and price. But if cheaper fruits are regionally or seasonally available, they too can be included:
Diced fruits – quantities
for one large Ramphastos toucan per day
Since the pellets are hard and dry when fresh, it is beneficial to prepare the diet several hours before use - preferably the day before – so the pellets have time to absorb the fruit juices and become soft.
Natural pigment occurs in foods that are high in carotenes. The yellow carotenoid pigment is found in egg yolk and dark vegetables, while red pigment can be found in carrots, tomatoes, paprika, red peppers, sweet potatoes and red berries. It is not practical to regularly provide such foods. However, synthetic red coloring agents are available such as canthaxanthin, and synthetic yellow pigments are available from manufacturers such as Nekton. Both are needed for proper toucan coloration. Indeed, both red and yellow coloring agents are needed for the proper coloration of most of the beautiful birds seen in zoological collections.
Pellets such as Tropical Bits and Red apple Jungle already contain red and yellow carotenes, removing the need to add color foods like canthaxanthin to the diet. That, in turn, eliminates the possibility of creating unnatural plumage colorations that can be caused by over-feeding canthaxanthin.
The captive diet should not contain meat, except possibly a small amount of pinkie mice for feeding chicks.
Most artificial diets probably provide far more iron than is available to the birds in the wild. The excess iron is stored in body tissues, particularly the liver, which is enlarged and damaged in the process. It is likely that the toucan liver starts absorbing iron from the first days of life, eventually causing hemosiderosis. Sooner or later all toucans seem to succumb to this disease, but with a low iron diet, the disease can be relegated to old age instead of being a major killer of young birds as it once was.
The current treatment for hemochromatosis is drug therapy combined with phlebotomies (blood letting) over approximately a 3 week period. This is normally a stressful treatment for a bird and tends to be a last resort.
The more one learns about iron, the more difficult it is to say definitively what "low iron" actually is. But generally, pellets at or lower than 150 ppm can be considered "low". Having said that, the toucans at Riverbanks, and other major toucan collections, have bred for many years on pellets that are approximately 200 ppm of iron. Simultaneously, iron storage disease has become a thing of the past. If you have any doubts about your current brand of food, it is well worth calling the manufacturer or having the food tested independently to determine its iron content. The cost for a laboratory analysis is usually very low indeed.
Tea: It is known that tannins (like those contained in ordinary tea) bind iron and other nutrients, making them unavailable to the body. It has been suggested that toucans in the wild drink from pools, or rain-filled hollows, where tannins from bark and fallen leaves leach into the water. Riverbanks Zoo routinely uses tannin (tea) in the diet, in the hope of reducing iron absorption. The efficacy of tea has not yet been studied in birds. But at worst, tea seems to be harmless, and at best it may be beneficial. A giant salt-shaker can be used to sprinkle a small amount of tea leaves directly onto the finished diet.
Tea not only binds iron, but also binds other nutrients. To prevent widespread nutrient depletion, we offer tea for one month, followed by a month without tea. This one-month-on / one-month-off cycle is continued permanently, and hopefully finds a compromise between minimizing iron absorption and depleting the body of important nutrients.
TO BE WRITTEN
The box should have plenty of ventilation. However, uncovered windows (of wire mesh etc) are not ideal because they can be peered into by people en-route, frightening the bird, or they can allow the bird to see activities outside the box which may also be unsettling. Toucans can be nervous travelers and are best shipped in a darkened environment. Windows on the box should be covered with an opaque, but air-permeable material such as burlap or cloth, to allow air-flow within the darkened environment. It should be partly taped down to prevent it from being pulled up en-route.