Ramphastos swainsoniichestnut-mandibled toucan

Geographic Range

Ramphastos swainsonii can be found within Central America and the Northwestern coast of South America. This species' home extends as far north as south-east Honduras and continues southward into Venezuela and eastern Ecuador. Commonly found in the Magdalena basin which extends from the west coast of Colombia to east Ecuador and North east to Honduras (Meyer de Shavensee 1964; Gould 1972).


This toucan is distrubuted among humid and wet forest and forest boundaries. It tends to occupy the canopies of the tropical forests and is also known to fly among the clearings or semi-open areas among the trees (Brown & Hilty, 1986; Slud, 1964).

Physical Description

Along with Ramphastos sulfuratus (keel-billed toucan), the adult R. swainsonii (chesnut-mandibled toucan) is one of the largest toucans. The male grows to be as large as 55-60 cm and the female reaches 50-53 cm. The beak alone can reach up to 15-20 cm depending on sex and age. Like many toucans this bird is brightly colored. The main color is black with patches of different hues on the body. The hindneck and upper back are a shade of maroon. It has a yellow "bib" on the throat and chest area which is bordered on the bottom by a narrow white line, followed by a red band. The rump of the bird is white with a red crissum--the feathers or area surrounding a bird's cloacal opening. The area around the eye is a yellowish-green and the iris is olive. The bill is also colorful. The base of the bill is dark red becoming blackish toward the tip on the lower mandible, on the maxilla, it is sulfur-yellow. The legs are bright blue. The young chesnut-mandibled toucan is not as brightly colored. It is a sooty black with a duller yellow "bib," and a paler red crissum (Meyer de Schavensee 1964; Skutch & Stiles 1989).

  • Range mass
    580 to 750 g
    20.44 to 26.43 oz


Like many toucan species, R. swainsonii builds its nest in cavities in trees. These cavities are either the result of decay or an old woodpecker hole in a large dead tree. The breeding season is known to occur from early April to early June. The incubation period can last 17-19 days, and the fledging period can last 5-6 weeks. Around 9 weeks of age the juveniles are self-feeding (Brown & Hilty 1986; Skutch & Stiles 1989).


This species is typically seen in pairs, or small groups, keeping among the dense foliage during the hottest parts of the day and getting active around sunset. The most interesting behaviors of this bird are its vocalizations. There are several shrill, yelping sounds this bird makes. One is a yelping "keeuREEK kirick, kirick," or "yo-YIP a-yip, a-yip," often repeated constantly. The most recognized call has to be the "keeyos taday taday" repeated at short intervals. This call has been described by locals as being "Dios te de, te de, te de," which is Spanish for "God keep you." The calling bird usually tosses up its head and beak, and along with a side-to-side movement, jerks its head up and moves its tail rapidly up and down. Closer to evening, flocks will gather in trees or on tall dead snags and call in chorus. They will often be answered by another group off in the distance. Along with these calls this toucan has been heard giving off a very loud, rapid piglike rattle that has been compared to the flapping pages of a heavy book (Slud 1964; Gould 1972; Skutch & Stiles, 1989).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Ramphastos swainosonii is primarily frugivorous. However, its diet is also supplemented with insects, occasional snakes and lizards and other nestling birds. It holds larger items beneath its foot while tearing it apart. Although the purpose of the large bill is not completely understood, it is helpful for seizing all types of food from fruit to insects (Skutch & Stiles 1989).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The beautiful color of this bird makes them excellent displays at zoos. They are also intelligent, playful pets. They are very hardy and easy to manage (Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens 2001).

Conservation Status

Although R. swainsonii has no special status, there is always some risk. Industrialization of cities and habitat destruction puts this species at some risk.

Other Comments

Many people relate the name "toucan" to a popular figure on cereal boxes. However, in Central and South America the toucan is not associated with such cheery thoughts. Many tribes in this region believe the toucan to be associated with evil spirits and thought to be the incarnation of a demon. In certain practices the father of a new child must not consume the flesh of a toucan or he may curse the new-born child. There are some positive beliefs associated with this bird too. This animal can be a tribal totem or the medicine man can use it as an incarnation to fly into the spirit world.

There are several key requirements for successful breeding in captivity: moderate warm climate, a suitable nest log, proper air quality, and a low iron diet (Jennings; Toucan Steel Drum Band 2000).


LeeAnn Bies (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


Brown, W., S. Hilty. 1986. A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. 1986: Princeton University Press.

Gould, J. 1972. Birds of South America. London, Great Britain: New Fetter Lane.

Jerry Jennings, "Toucans" (On-line). Accessed March 22, 2001 at http://www.emeraldforestbirds.com/specpage/toucan.htm.

Meyer de Shavensee, R. 1964. Birds of Colombia. Narberth, PA: Livingston Publishing Company.

Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden, 2001. "Riverbanks" (On-line). Accessed (Date Unknown) at http://www.riverbanks.org/aig/2canbree.htm.

Skutch, A., G. Stiles. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Publishing Associates.

Slud, P. 1964. Birds of Costa Rica. New York: Volume 128.

Toucan Steel Drum Band, 2000. "The Toucan Bird" (On-line). Accessed March 22, 2001 at http://www.blarg.net/~toucans/ToucanBird.html.