Significance to humans

A Brazilian folk tale relates that the toucan wanted to be ruler of all birds, so it hid inside a tree cavity with only its large bill visible through the hole. Seeing the massive bill, the other birds accepted the toucan as king—until it emerged from the cavity. Then the thrush noted that despite its large bill, the toucan had a small body, and the toucan was humiliated by all birds.

Amazonian Indians use colorful toucan feathers and bills for decoration, especially those of true toucans (Ramphastos) and aracaris (Pteroglossus). In some cultures toucan flesh is relished, and the birds are regarded as trophies of sorts.

Native South Americans sometimes take young toucans from their nests and keep them as free-flying pets. The first European settlers in South America often kept pet toucans as well. Such tame toucans have been known to dominate chickens in villages and farmyards.

1. Toco toucan (Ramphastos toco); 2. Yellow-browed toucanet (Aulacorhynchus huallagae); 3. Chestnut-eared aracari (Pteroglossus castanotis); 4. Gray-breasted mountain toucan (Andigena hypoglauca); 5. Saffron toucanet (Baillonius bailloni); 6. Plate-billed mountain toucan (Andigena laminirostris); 7. White-throated toucan (Ramphastos tucanus). (Illustration by Joseph E Trumpey)

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