The Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)


Keel-billed toucans perching. PC Patricia Jones

Keel-billed toucans perching. PC Patricia Jones

Another #BeakoftheWeek nomination, the keel-billed toucan is under the microscope today.

Although not quite as famous as the perennial Guinness mascot, the toco toucan, this species is quite the charmer.  Also known as the rainbow-billed toucan and the sulphur-breasted toucan, it is the national bird of Belize.  It ranges from southern Mexico to northern Colombia and north-western Venezuela.  They are usually found in pairs or family groups, sometimes in groups as large as 22.

Other than its vibrant bill, the keel-billed toucan has a few other things up its sleeve to impress.  One of my favourite things, is simply the fact that it has blue feet.  They are about 17-22 inches in length, and about 1/3 of this length is accounted for by their impressive bills.  Wouldn’t having such a large beak be rather cumbersome you ask? Well… Their beaks are made up of keratin and foamy or sponge-like bone structures, making it light weight, and unlikely to topple them over.  Their bills also have the added bonus of being very strong.  This article discusses this in further detail.

Another benefit to having this large bill is thermoregulation.  Toucans are able to use the blood vessels running along their beaks in order to regulate their body temperature.  This site has an excellent video of a toucan doing just that.

They also lend themselves to some pretty awful puns

They also lend themselves to some pretty awful puns

Keel-billed toucans have zygodactyl feet, with two toes facing forward and two back.  This interesting piece discusses different toe arrangements in birds, and what they are useful for.

This species is known to hang around in large groups, as mentioned earlier, and they also like to play, with reports of individuals tossing berries to each-other.  There are quite a few examples on youtube of toucans feeding, which are worth a look at, such as these (1) (2).  They are monogamous and both parents are known to take part in incubation duties and feeding their young. The keel-bill feeds largely on fruit, but also consumes arthropods and small vertebrates.

This article has been quite video heavy, but there are lots of great ones out there, and here’s a nice one of a male courtship calling.

Estimates of their longevity come from captive populations, where they are known to live for at least 15 years and 7 months.  In the wild this species is vulnerable when nesting, and they are targeted by snakes, mammals and bird species such as black hawk-eagles. Their population is decreasing due to habitat loss, being taken for the pet trade, and hunting. They are of least concern on the IUCN redlist however, due to their large population size and range.

Xeno Canto once again does a great job of showing us where they are found, and what types of calls they make.



BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Ramphastos sulfuratus. Downloaded from on 26/05/2015.

BirdLife International 2012. Ramphastos sulfuratus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>. Downloaded on 26 May 2015.

Jones, Revee, and Carole S. Griffiths. 2011. Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online:

Short, L.L. & Sharpe, C.J. (2014). Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 26 May 2015).


Ramphastos sulfuratus by Patricia Jones is licensed under CC BY 3.0