Toucan, a name given to the scansorial birds of the family ramphastidoe, derived from the Brazilian imitation of their note. The family is remarkable for the disproportionate size of the bill, which is very light on account of its spongy texture; it is strengthened internally by a network of thin bony laminaa freely supplied with vessels and nerves; it is broad at the base, without a cere, smooth, with the culmen curved, sides compressed, tip hooked, and the sides serrated; the tongue is long and slender, provided with numerous barbs on each side directed forward; the bill is usually adorned with bright colors, which fade after death; the tarsi covered with transverse scutes, the quills almost concealed under the large coverts, the tail with ten feathers; claws curved and sharp; toes two before and two behind; orbital region naked; furcula of two bony pieces, thin and not united below, and sternum with two deep incisions on each side behind. They are peculiar to tropical America, living in flocks in the forest, where they make a great chattering as they hop from branch to branch in search of food; they feed principally on pulpy fruits, also on fish, eggs, larvae, and small birds and reptiles; they also saw off the tubular corolla of flowers, picking out the insects with the horny, fimbriated tongue.
When roosting they throw their tail upward and forward, and rest the enormous bill on the back. They are generally handsome birds, representing in America the horn-bills of Asia and Africa; they are not powerful fliers, and are strictly arboreal, hopping among the branches with such grace and agility as to have suggested for one of them the specific name of Ariel. The nest is in holes in trees, and the eggs are two, rounded and white. They post a sentinel while they feed, whose warning cry resembles the word tucano; the skin is bluish, and the flesh eatable though rather tough; they sometimes commit great havoc with fruit, and are often killed for food and for their brilliant feathers; they are very sensitive to cold. - In the toucans proper (ram-phastos, Linn.) the bill is higher and wider than the forehead, looking as if too large for the head and belonging to another bird; the nostrils are hidden behind the prominent base; wings short and rounded, with the first four quills graduated and narrowed at the tip, and the fifth the longest; tail short and nearly even; feet short and stout; colors generally black with patches of white, red, and yellow, especially under the chin.
The toco toucan (P. toco, Gmel.) is 17 in. long, and the bill is more than half of that length; plumage black with throat and rump white, vent red, bill orange red with black tip; it inhabits Guiana and Brazil. The yellow-breasted toucan (P. tucanus, Linn.) has a yellow throat, with red vent and breast spot, and the rest of the plumage black. There are more than a dozen other species. - In the genus pteroglossus (Illig.), generally called aracaris, the bill is much smaller and sometimes not out of proportion to the head, as high as the forehead, with the nostrils conspicuous at the base; fourth, fifth, and sixth quills longest; tail long and graduated; the colors are usually green, with red or yellow on the breast. There are more than 30 species, with habits similar to those of the last genus. The aracari toucan (P. aracari, Illig.) is 17 in. long, with a bill of 4 in.; plumage blackish green, with yellowish abdomen, red median abdominal bar and rump; upper mandible with a longitudinal black stripe.
The yellow toucan (P. Humboldtii, Gould) is 17 in. long, black and olive with a scarlet rump, and the under surface yellow; it is found on the upper Amazon. - For description and figures of this family, see Gould's "Monograph of the Ramphastidae " (fob, London, 1834).
Yellow Toucan (Pteroglossus Humboldtii).