Keel-billed Toucan

Keel-billed Toucan, Belize

Keel-billed Toucan, Belize

The national bird of Belize, the Keel-billed Toucan is a gregarious bird traveling in small flocks in the rainforest canopies of Central America.  Although we spotted them a few times every day in the Belizean rainforest, they are also found in parts of southern Mexico and northern South America.


The garishly colored bill takes up nearly one third of the bird’s body, measuring approximately 5-6 inches long (12-15 cm).  By looking at it one would think the bill is heavy…but it’s not.  It is a spongy and hollow bone covered with lightweight keratin.


Eating mostly fruit, Ramphastos sulfuratus can sit in one place in a fruit tree and reach out with the long bill and eat abundantly without wasting energy. Not strictly frugivorous (fruit-eating), they also use the bill to reach into deep holes to steal other birds’ food or eggs.  The bill is also used for regulating temperature, and, if necessary, territorial combat.


Rainforest tree canopies tower over 200 feet (60 m) high, making toucan photography and birding a challenge.  So I found myself constantly listening for the toucan.  Oddly, they sound like a frog; a low-pitched troik, troik.  Another tell-tale sign of their presence is dropping fruit and leaves, the result of their rummaging.


This national bird sports a yellow and green face, a giant green, red, and orange bill, and blue feet.  It is no wonder the good residents of Belize wear bright clothes and paint their houses in a lively kaleidoscope of colors.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander


30 thoughts on “Keel-billed Toucan

  1. When I saw my first Toucan in Mexico I was over over-joyed – by the time we made it to Columbia and they were just *there”, flying in the trees I was beside myself with excitement – they are as glorious in real-life as they are in photographs! 🙂

    • You said it Joanne — an over-joying experience. Oh and you just want to keep finding them, observing, photographing because they’re so grand. Many thanks Joanne! 😀

  2. Love how you get to see and photograph these exotic creatures (not just the Tucans) and share them with us. I’m still working on the local ones and getting totally jazzed at any new discovery (to me)!

    • It’s a great thing to get jazzed at the local friends! I have a birding friend who is an outdoor travel guide of 30 yrs., has been all over the world, and she gets excited about every single bird on this planet. I really like that. Thanks so much Gunta. 😀

  3. It’s amazing how nature has a perfect way with everything, like inventing a lightweight, multi-functional bill for this beautiful bird! Thanks for sharing!

    • Yes, it is perfect. This bird did not evolve as a great flyer, because they frequent forests where they don’t need to soar, so they don’t have the wings or tail, don’t need them, but the bill is a multi-purpose tool. Thanks for bringing it up Tiny– 😀

  4. Jet I had no idea that the beak was so light. One would have the impression that the Toucan must need to see a chiropractor regularly for neck adjustments holding his big shnoz up. I am learning so much bout birds here with you. Thank you.

  5. Like others, I had no idea a toucan’s beak is light – I imagined they must have developed a muscular ‘neck brace’ of some sort to stop them from falling forwards out of the tree. Thanks Jet, I am better informed (but no wiser). RH

  6. When I stayed at an eco lodge in Costa Rica, I told the resident guide that I really wanted to see a toucan. He made a face and told me that toucans are actually very mean birds that eat other species’ babies. I searched anyway, but I never did see one.

    • Sometimes resident guides get burned out (the pay is nearly zilch), so it’s always good to do what you did, search anyway. I’m sorry you didn’t get the chance to see one. Very much appreciate your visit and comment. 😀

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