Toucan Family Ramphastidae

The family Ramphastidae, or family of toucans, is one of six families in the order Piciformes, which also includes the families Picidae (woodpeckers), Capitonidae (barbets), Indicatoridae (honeyguides). There is some disagreement whether the families Galbulidae (jacamars) and Bucconidae (puffbirds) are actually Piciformes.

The family Ramphastidae is further divided into six genera, of which the genus Ramphastos contains all the large, black toucans with the famously comical large banana shaped bills, which make them easily recognizable at a distance. Within the genus Ramphastos, there are eight species and several subspecies, which collectively are distributed throughout tropical America from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. They are absent from the Pacific coastal deserts of northern Peru south and completely absent from Chile. Otherwise, one or more species of the genus is found in every Latin American country.

These large toucans are restricted to the lowland tropical rainforests from sea level to elevations not exceeding 1,000 meters. They feed on a wide variety of fruits, berries and insects as well as the occasional eggs and nestlings of small passerine birds, which are taken primarily during the breeding season, when the toucan's protein requirements is greatly enhanced.

The largest of the black toucans is the Toco (Ramphastos toco), which also enjoys the widest distribution. It is found from southern Guyana and Surinam and southward throughout Brasil to northern Argentina, Bolivia and into eastern Peru. It is found in tropical moist forest as well as dry savanah and in throughout the seasonal wetlands of the Pantanal in southern Brasil. Tocos adjust to a wide variety of temperature zones from the near constant warm climate of the tropics in southern Guyana and Surinam through central Brasil to colder zones found in northern Argentina, where the temperatures drop to near freezing on winter nights.

The Keel Bill Toucan, aka the Rainbow Billed Toucan (R. sulphuratus), is found in Central America from southern Mexico to northern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela.

The Swainson Toucan, aka the Chestnut Mandibled Toucan (R. swainsonii) is also found in Central America from Honduras south to Colombia. While it is found in most of the same countries as the keel Bill, it occupies a slightly different niche. In Costa Rica, it is found in the western part of the country from Nicoya south and is a frequently in the coastal community of Golfito, where the Keel Bill is absent. The Keel Bill is found in central Costa Rica and at slightly higher elevations.

The Black Mandibled Toucan (R. ambigua) is found in southern Panama and northern Colombia east to western Venezuela. Similar in appearance to the Swainson, it is considered a separate species and differs in appearance only in the color of the bill. Whereas the Swainson has a mostly chestnut colored bill, the Black Mandibled Toucan has a mostly black bill.

The Choco Toucan (R. choco) is again similar in appearance to the Black Mandibled Toucan, except it is smaller in size and has a different voice often referred to as a "croaking" call. The Black Mandibled and the Swainson Toucans have what is known as a yelping voice. The Choco is found in the wet forests of western Colombia and Ecuador.

The Red Breasted Toucan (R. dicolorus) is the smallest billed of the large toucans and is found in southern Brasil and northern Argentina. It is one of the commonly seen of the toucans in the rainforest and may be seen regularly in the Iguazu National Park of Brasil and Argentina.

The Red Billed Toucan (R. tucanus) aka the White Breasted Toucan, is found in Guyana, Surinam, Venezuela and northern Brasil. The Red Bill is one of the three largest of the black toucans, only slightly smaller than the Toco and equal in size to the Swainson.

The Cuvier's Toucan (R. cuvieri) was once considered a subspecies of the Red Bill Toucan, but is now considered a separate species (Sibley & Monroe). It is found in western Brasil into eastern and southern Peru. Both the red Bill and the Cuvier's Toucan have calls known as "yelpers."

The Channel Bill Toucan (R. vitellinus) is the second most wide ranging species found from southern Surinam, Guyana and Venezuela south into northern and central Brasil. It also has several subspecies including the Ariel Toucan (R. v. ariel) found uniquely in central Brasil, the Citron Throated Toucan (R. v. citreolaemus) found in northeastern Colombia, western Venezuela and east to the Guyanas and south to the Amazon River, and the Yellow Ridged Toucan (R. v. culminatus) found along the eastern side of the Andes from southern Colombia and Venezuela south through Ecuador and Peru to northern Bolivia. The calls of the Channel Bill and its subspecies are considered "croaking" calls.

All of the large black toucans have been kept in captivity in the USA at one time or another, though today the Yellow Ridged and the Black Mandible are apparently absent. The Red Breasted and the Ariel, once very common are now quite rare in U.S. collections.