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