In my Costa Rican garden: Keel-billed Toucan

Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus): Tucán pico iris; Fischertukan; Toucan à carène

Keel-billed Toucan at Taus near Pejibaye; photo by John Beer

You don’t have to go to forested areas such as Taus (above) to find the stunning Keel-billed Toucan. It is a common species in most of Costa Rica and can be either seen or heard almost daily in my garden on the Turrialba Volcano slope (1300 m above sea level). It is generally absent from higher elevations on the volcano. The following photograph, from even lower down at Siquirres, shows the full body length where the relative size of the huge, multi-coloured bill can be fully appreciated.

The Keel-billed Toucan‘s bill is almost a third of the bird’s body length but is extremely light and manoevrable.

Note the feet, where two toes face forward and two backward, an arrangement common in arboreal species. The Keel-billed Toucan betrays its presence through its repetitive, frog-like call, which is easy to identify once heard. However, it spends a great deal of its time in tree tops, where it is not always easy to see despite its colourful plumage and large size. Like other toucans it flies with alternate flaps and glides. The first impression is of a large, black bird. In many areas several birds of this social species will be together in a troupe, though here in San Antonio I mostly see just a pair.

Though chiefly fruit-eaters, toucans will also destroy the nests of songbirds and eat the eggs and nestlings. I have seen this behaviour first-hand in the garden, the victims being Social Flycatchers and Great Kiskadees.

Here is a final photograph of a Keel-billed Toucan from much closer to Turrialba, at Finca Tres Equis:

Keel-billed Toucan warily eyes the photographer at Finca Tres Equis; photo by John Beer

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