Keel Bills

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Sun 23 Sep 2012 22:52
Keel-Billed Toucans




BF First Toucans 005

Our first ever Toucan in the wild – in the hotel garden


The Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) also known as Sulfur-breasted Toucan or Rainbow-billed Toucan, is a colourful Latin American member of the toucan family, it is the national bird of Belize and loads of them live here in Tikal. Bear calls the toucan a flying banana, he calls these chaps the flying plantains. As soon as the waiters knew I wanted to photograph them, they kept a sharp look-out, each morning we saw them after breakfast just outside the main entrance.

Description: Including its bill, the Keel-billed Toucans ranges in length from around 17 - 22 inches. Their large and colourful bill averages around 5 - 6 inches, about one-third of its length. It typically weighs about 13.4 - 17 ounces. While the bill seems large and cumbersome, it is in fact a spongy, hollow bone covered in keratin, a very light and hard protein. The plumage of the Keel-billed Toucan is mainly black with a yellow neck and chest. Molting occurs once per year.It has blue feet and red feathers at the tip of its tail. The bill is mainly green with a red tip and orange sides. Keel-billed toucans have zygodactyl feet (or feet with toes facing in different directions) - two toes face forward and two face back. Because toucans spend a large portion of time in the trees, this helps the birds to stay on the branches of the trees and hop from one branch to another.


BF Temple 5 and Bits 111

Despite their huge bill and yellow bib, they blend in quite well


Distribution: The Keel-billed Toucan can be found from Southern Mexico to Venezuela and Colombia. It roosts in the canopies of tropical, subtropical, and lowland rainforests, up to altitudes of 1,900 m. It roosts in holes in trees, often with several other toucans. This can be very cramped, so the birds tuck their tails and beaks under their bodies to conserve space while sleeping. Adding to the lack of space, the bottoms of the holes are often covered with pips from the fruit the toucans have eaten.

Like many toucans, Keel-billed is a very social bird, rarely seen alone. It travels in small flocks of approximately six to twelve individuals through lowland rainforests; it is a poor flyer, moving about mostly by hopping through the trees. It has a family structure within the group. Birds will often "duel" with each other using their bills, and throw fruit into each other's mouths. Keel-billed Toucans live together in these groups, often sharing cramped living quarters of holes in trees. Able to utilize human-altered habitat to some extent, this widespread bird is considered to be a Species of Least Concern by the IUCN. Here at the Tikal Inn we see five couples who breed successfully each year.


BF Temple 5 and Bits 107  BF Temple 5 and Bits 109

First, you have a good look round


BF Temple 5 and Bits 092 

You see the fruit you fancy


BF Temple 5 and Bits 098  BF Temple 5 and Bits 100  BF Temple 5 and Bits 102

BF Temple 5 and Bits 097

Lean, locate, collect and eat


Feeding: The diet of Keel-billed Toucans consists mostly of a wide range of fruit, but may also include insects, eggs and reptiles. The bill, surprisingly dexterous, allows this toucan to utilise a large variety of fruit that might not otherwise be reached. When eating the fruit, it uses its bill to dissect the fruit, and then tosses its head back to swallow the fruit whole.


BF Temple 5 and Bits 081  BF Temple 5 and Bits 080

Not so lucky – the shuck comes too


  BF Temple 5 and Bits 082  BF Temple 5 and Bits 083

BF Temple 5 and Bits 087

Wiggle, roll and succeed


Breeding: The female lays 1-4 white eggs in a natural or ready-made tree cavity. The males and females share in the caring of the eggs, both taking turns incubating. The eggs hatch approximately 15–20 days after being laid. After hatching, the male and female again take turns feeding the chicks. When the chicks hatch, they have no feathers, and have their eyes closed for approximately 3 weeks. The chicks have adequately formed heel pads, which assist on the pip-covered bottom of the nest. The chicks stay in their nest for approximately eight to nine weeks while their bills develop fully and they are ready to fledge from the nest.


BF First Toucans 017  BF First Toucans 018  BF First Toucans 020

If you’re really flash you practice chucking it in the air and catching it.


BF Temple 5 and Bits 088