Bird of the Week: Yellow-Throated Toucan
This week on Bird of the Week, we’re going for pure joy, and a bird that everyone loves. It’s the yellow-throated toucan!!!
Doesn’t that picture just make you happy? I know that in our rush to anthropomorphize other creatures, we can flatten out whatever emotional complexities they may have, but even so: ahhhhhh!!!! So adorable!!!
With their bright colors and those otherworldly bills, toucans are practically engineered to delight us, and the yellow-throated toucan (which is also known as the black-mandibled toucan, but that name is not as cute) is a particularly lovely variety. It resides in Central and South America, from Costa Rica down into Venezuela and Ecuador and Colombia and Peru. There are many nice birds in New York, but I would like just once to look up and see a yellow-throated toucan just hanging out with its giant bill!
About that giant bill. Toucans have the biggest bill-to-body ratio in the bird universe. (According to National Geographic, the yellow-throated toucan’s bill is about the same length as the bird’s entire wingspan.) According to the San Diego Zoo, the bill is mostly hollow and is actually made of keratin, like our hair or nails or the outer layer of our skin. Scientists have apparently gone back and forth for ages about why it’s so big—maybe it’s for mating reasons! Maybe it’s for fighting reasons! Some third thing!—and while that question has not been firmly answered, experts have discovered some remarkable abilities that these beaks possess. For instance, they regulate the toucan’s temperature!
[U]sing infrared thermography, a type of temperature-sensing video originally developed by the U.S. military, scientists have tracked the pattern of heat distribution across the toucan's body under changing outside temperatures. When the bird got too hot, it released heat by sending blood to its highly vascular but uninsulated beak. In cooler weather, the toucan constricted blood vessels in its beak to conserve heat and stay warm.
[…] The beak acts as a thermal "window" that can open and close to regulate the toucan's body temperature. The prominent proboscis is also remarkably adjustable: Depending on air temperature, wind speed and blood flow, the beak can account for anywhere from 5 percent to nearly 100 percent of total body-heat loss.
That’s right: toucans are walking around with an organic, all-natural air conditioner AND heater strapped to their heads. Am I, a person currently contemplating his summer energy bills, jealous that these birds just automatically solve this problem within their own bodies? Perhaps. Let’s do another picture.
Glorious. You can really see the red undertones in its feathers there. The yellow-throated toucan lives mostly off of fruit, but it even manages to make its diet kinda cool. From Natural Habitat Adventures:
They may catch prey for their young, which need more protein for growth. Some of this protein may come in the form of large insects, lizards, eggs from other birds’ nests, and possibly fly termites that toucans will snatch out of the air.
These toucans forage by maintaining their center of gravity on tree branches and reaching out with their beaks to grab fruit at a distance. They will then toss back their heads and swallow the fruit whole. They tend to hover around particular fruit trees until the fruit is gone, and then they will move on to other trees.
They will also fight hard for their food, even muscling out smaller toucans to get at the good stuff.
Now for some sad news. The yellow-throated toucan is listed as a “near-threatened” species because of deforestation and habitat list. Once again, I beseech the human species to stop being so terrible all the time. We need the yellow-throated toucan. to survive and thrive, you idiots!
I want to end on a nice note, so let’s do some videos! Here is the call of the yellow-throated toucan, which I love.
Here’s the toucan nesting in the hollow of a tree! Ahhh!
Here’s two toucans calling and eating bananas!!!
And here is a toucan jumping from branch to branch to get food.