The Brightly Colored Toucan of Nicaragua’s Forests

Most people will recognize a toucan without ever seeing one face to face. This colorful, large-billed bird is unmistakable. Few would ever expect to spot one on a visit to Nicaragua, but if you spend some time in Nicaragua’s rainforests, that is exactly what you can expect to see.

It is certainly not unusual to spot a toucan in Nicaragua’s National Parks. These birds are actually quite common here. All toucans are found in the neotropics – the tropical parts of the Americas – and Nicaragua definitely falls into this range. Toucans are easily identified by their large, colorful bills. Despite the fact that most people think all toucans look alike, there are actually about forty different species. Their size is dictated by their particular species, with the largest toucan measuring about 63 cm and the smallest toucan measuring only about 29 cm. Their bodies are relatively short and stocky and the tail is rounded and may be as long as the bird’s body or half that length. Their necks are appropriately short and support their massive bills which may be more than half the length of the birds own body. Inside the beak you will find a long, narrow tongue which is frayed on each side. Their unusual tongues give the toucan an excellent sense of taste. The toucan’s beak is also a bit saw-toothed.

The toucan’s legs are also short and strong and the first and fourth toes face backwards. The color of both sexes is usually determined by genus instead of gender and so larger toucans are usually black with touches of white, scarlet and yellow while smaller toucans may have a yellow breast which is crossed by red or black bands. A toucan’s diet consists mainly of fruit, though they will eat insects and small lizards and will sometimes eat other small things which other birds do not make a habit of eating. Though scientists are unsure of why the toucan has such an unusual bill, one theory suggests that it helps the bird to reach into tree holes in order to consume small insects, nestlings and bats. This has still not been proven.

So the next time you visit Nicaragua, keep a lookout for the beautiful toucan. Resplendent in bright plumage and unusual bill, this bird is always a joy to see.