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The Irregular Bird

#605 Toco Toucan: 6 May 2021

Please forgive the shock of another Irregular Bird: I'm currently full of good intentions, which I'll talk about later. I have Toucans on my mind at the moment, which I'll also mention later, so here is the Toco Toucan which was well up on our list of wanted birds on our visit to the Pantanal in Brazil in September 2019.

Photo of Toco Toucan toco_toucan_201883_pp

We found our first one, above, on our first day driving into the Pantanal, feeding on a lone fruiting tree beside the road. This gave us the impression that this large species would be easy to find, but we saw very few after that and I photographed only this one other bird, below, feeding on another fruiting tree beside the river on the way from Porto Jofre to the Meeting of the Waters National Park (Encontro das Águas) to look for Jaguars. This species of Toucan is readily identified by its diagnostic yellow and orange, black-tipped bill and in the second photo, you can just see the red undertail coverts and white rump, both also characteristic of this species.

Photo of Toco Toucan toco_toucan_204420_pp

With a length of 60cm/24in and weight to 800gm/1.8lbs this is the largest of the seven or eight species of large Toucan (genus Ramphastos). It is also the only one that doesn't inhabit forests; it occurs on forest edges and in grasslands. It has a wide range in South America from Guyana south to northern Argentina, avoiding the forested regions of the Amazon Basin. It nests in cavities in trees, river banks or termite nests. Both adults incubate and feed the young, predominantly on insects when very young but gradually switching to the adult diet of fruit such as figs as the nestlings grow older.

Photo of Guinness Toucan Poster guinness-toucan-posters1

Toucans are strange and spectacular birds and it is not surprising that they have captured the popular imagination. I remember this poster for Guinness in the bar of Greystones Golf Club, Co. Wicklow, when I was a kid in Ireland in the 1950s. Guinness has used the Toucan as a mascot since the 1930s. Who knows, maybe Guinness helped spark my interest in birds, though there was another one about Gnus - "The New Gnu at the Zoo; Guinness is Good for You" - which aroused only a mild interest in even-toed, horned ungulates. The toucan artist has taken a bit of license with a slightly hybrid design (the black spot on the bill is missing, the patch around the eye is blue and green and the yellow and red breast bands are normally barely visible on the Toco Toucan) but it is certainly a Toco Toucan and not one of the other species (http://www.birdway.com.au/ramphastidae/).

Photo of Toco Toucan Shirt and Socks toco_toucan_socks_pp

he reason why I have Toucans on my mind is because I usually wear tropical shirts when I go folk dancing with the Townsville dancers, suitable for dancing in the tropics even if most of the dance originate in eastern Europe and the Middle East. One of the dancers gave me a pair of socks featuring flamingos to go with a flamingo shirt that I have, so I went on a search for suitable socks to go with another shirt with Toucans and Macaws. As you can see toucan on both the socks and the shirt is a Toco Toucan and I couldn't resist sharing them and photos of the real thing with you.

One of the reasons the Irregular Bird has been very rare recently is that I started doing a series on island birding so we could get vicarious pleasure from pretending to travel when we were prevented from doing so by Covid-19. I got bogged down on a trip to Macquarie Island, preparing lots of photos and researching lots of species and never finished it. So, I've decided to go back to the original format of dealing with a single species at a time, and hopefully that will be easier to do and more frequent. I haven't taken many photos since the pandemic started, but there are plenty of species left in the library to keep us going until and if things get back to normal.

Greetings
Ian

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Page revised on 19 May 2021