Villa Quetzal

Villa Quetzal

Monday, November 12, 2012

Who doesn't love Toucans?

     Once you have seen a toucan in person, it is very difficult to avoid falling in love with it.  It seems like many of us have some kind of cartoon–like image of a toucan from our childhood, like Toucan Sam, or the most recent lovely toucan in the movie Rio, Rafael. 

     The truth is, the human mind has the tendency to remember a toucan, because it a very colorful, carries an enormous beak, which looks like it is bigger than its body length, it has the sweetest most vivid eyes, and looks like a stuffed toy.

     When I saw my first toucan in Ojochal, happily perching on a tree by my house, I kept waiting for it to move, since it looked so cute, I could not believe it was a real toucan, and then to show me, he started flying.  

     Costa Rica is home for six of the 40 species currently living around the world.

     Toucans live only in the tropics.  The keel-billed and the chestnut-mandible are the largest spiciest of toucan in Costa Rica. 

     Toucans are most famous for their large and colorful beaks.  The size and color differ from specie to specie and from male to female; however, in general, the beak alone represents one-third of the body length, and it is surprisingly light, because it is hollow. It is also their nature given protection against intruders.  When it comes to defending against large predators like the harpy eagle, toucans prefer to hide in a hollow tree cavity until the predator leaves.  

     Toucans have very few predators in the rainforest, as I mentioned the harpy eagle will actually eat a toucan if it can catch it; other predators are the snake, but more often than not what they eat is the toucan eggs.  Toucans are able to hide from predators because they have excellent eyesight that allows them to distinguish friends from enemies.

     Toucans eat mostly fruits, nuts, and seeds; however, they eat some insects and small reptiles like lizards, spiders, frogs, snakes, and sometimes they eat the eggs of other little birds that seem to give them a crucial addition of protein to their diet. 

     I remember one of my friends telling me “you don’t even want to know what toucans eat,” then she said with great disgust, “They eat other bird’s eggs.”  I can see why she felt so uneasy about it; even so, if we think about it; it is the natural process of life, part of the food chain.  It does not change how much I like them; they are only doing what they supposed to do.  Some people say that toucans have such enormous beaks to be able to eat a wide variety of foods.

     Toucans live high in the treetops around lowland forest or mangroves close to the beach.  During the hottest part of the day, they seek the shade in the deep foliage.

     They have short feet; each one has four claws, two that go backward, and the other two forward.  That configuration allows them to have a better grip on the branches, and hold the food without dropping it.  Their short feet help them to move from one tree to another by jumping with a brief opening of the wings.
     Toucans are usually seen in pairs, or in small groups; they have unique ways of reproduction.  The males attract their mate with a very loud matting call, which can be heard from long distances.  After they get together and mate, the female starts the pregnancy period, which goes from three to 10 days.  Once she laid the eggs, it takes about a month for them to hatch.  The female lays from one to four eggs on the nest, usually all of them survive unless a snake gets them.  The period of incubation could last up to 18 days.  The male and the female share the task of incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks.  The baby chicks look just like the adult toucan, but have brighter feathers and smaller beaks in proportion to its little bodies, which are around 10 cm, and their color is dark yellow.  It takes about nine weeks for the new born to become self-feeding, and ready to move on.

     Toucans live up to 20 years.  They are very vocal some people call them noisy.  They love to congregate in large groups, perching on the mangrove trees between our house and the beach.  It is like being in the front seat at a concert.
Listen to the Toucan call

     Toucans have been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, and they had been considered sacred by the Incas and revered by the Maya civilization.  These two indigenous tribes considered the Toucan as a mystic symbol and a tribal totem.  In their belief, this bird could teach people to speak up and express themselves.  The Shamans considered the toucan as the connection between the worlds of the living and the spirits.

     It is interesting to see how toucans have been appreciated throughout the centuries for many different reasons.  Personally, toucans are part of my everyday life, and even though I see them often, I find them more fascinating.  

Every time I see them; I take a photo, or record their call in my cell phone; I feel joyful.

     When you visit Costa Rica, make sure you ask the locals, where you can see the toucans in their natural habitat, you will love the experience.

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