Toucans in Aviculture at the Millennium


T oucans are as familiar as breakfast cereal at the supermarket, as magnificent as a clown, and as exotic as the mystical places of our fantasies. Everyone seems to know who "Fruit Loops" is, and understands that this silly looking creature has, at the very least, a good sense of humor. Not nearly as many folks have had the good fortune to meet one of these characters in person, and only a small, rare breed of person has had the thrill of actually owning one, the Court jesters of God's kingdom.

For many years, up until the mid 1960s, it was thought by most aviculturists that toucans were impossible to breed and, indeed, but for the exception of the once-only breeding of the Spot-billed Toucanet at the London Zoo in 1914, there was a notable absence of success. Then out of the fog of ancient aviculture stepped one Frank Todd, then Curator of Birds at the Los Angeles Zoo, who would do the impossible and breed not only


one, but several species of toucans, and not only a First Breeding of each, but several generations - a testament to his avicultural gift.

Mr. Todd did more than break new ground (which he subsequently and notably repeated with penguins at Sea World), he created a "cook book" recipe for the repetition of his feat for all who would simply follow directions. Interpretive renditions of his opus generally would not suffice - simply follow the steps. A little compatibility here, a little nest log there, etc., and a great result would be forthcoming.

Few have followed in those illustrious footsteps, but I had to give it a try. I never was a good cook, so this was a difficult task, or so I thought. Needless to say, it was surprisingly easier to do than expected, and today Emerald Forest Bird Gardens has become a center for the reproduction of many species of toucans, toucanets, and aracaris.

Toucans are not well established in aviculture today in spite of the great introduction pioneered by Todd in the mid sixties. Only a couple of species, the Green Aracari and the Emerald Toucanet could be considered "safe"


in the sense that most other species may slip through our fingers like water and disappear from aviculture. It is important that we not let such a tragedy occur.

Toucans are important to aviculture, because as Sir Edmund Hillary once said about a mountain, " .. .it is there." Toucans, too "are there." They are important because they bring laughter to our hearts and delight to our souls- especially children's. They are the colorful clowns of the bird world, and after all, Mr. Fruit Loops is an important icon in our culture.

Toucans are wonderful birds for the aviary. They are easily seen, friendly, and most species are compatible with other birds of a similar size. Toucans can be kept with hornbills and touracos; toucanets and aracaris can be kept with thrushes and jays, and more. They can be kept indoors and out and, of all the softbills kept in aviculture today, toucans make the best of pets.