Regardless of whether you are a bona fide birder or just someone who enjoys nature, there’s no doubt that spotting our national bird, the Keel-Billed Toucan, when visiting Belize is always a treat! Although some people associate this beauty with the goofy “Toucan Sam” caricature seen on the popular Fruit Loops cereal box, let me tell you, these birds are sophisticated and worthy of great respect. For one thing, Mr. Keel-Billed would never be caught eating cereal for breakfast! A nice bowl of fruit, along with some insects and perhaps a lizard on the side, would be more like it!

Scientifically known as Ramphastos sulfuratus, the Keel-Billed toucan gained notoriety when the Right Honorable George Price adopted him as the national bird on September 21st, 1981, when Belize became an independent nation. The bird wears the honor well, donning his regal bill colored with a mixture of green, red, yellow, or orange. Made from a substance called keratin, the elongated bill is very light but exceptionally strong.
Perhaps the only thing the Keel-Billed toucan and “Toucan Sam” have in common is their gregarious nature. Occurring in small flocks that roam together through the treetops in search of food, this playful, beautiful bird is highly social and is rarely spotted alone. Often, they travel in groups of six up to 15 other toucans.
Its colors are startling; from its rainbow bill to its iridescent blue legs, few birds display such a variety of colors. Its face, throat, and chest are yellow with a narrow border of red on the chest; its body is black with red under the tail and white on the upper tail. The Keel-Billed has a patch of bare green skin around the eye, and the feet are like a woodpecker’s, with two toes forward and two back. The toucan can reach 17 to 22 inches in height and 5 to 9 pounds in weight. Keel-billed toucans can survive 15 to 20 years in the wild.
This beauty ranges from southern Mexico to northern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela, where they inhabit tropical and subtropical rainforests. They live together in tree holes with five to six other birds, where they all sleep with their bills tucked under the body to make room for their roommates. Natural enemies of Keel-Billed toucans are birds of prey and humans. Snakes, monkeys, weasels, and other birds prey on their eggs. Significant threats to the survival of Keel-Billed toucans are habitat destruction and uncontrolled hunting for meat and their beaks. Despite these factors, this toucan is still widespread and numerous in the wild.
The most recognized and celebrated bird in Belize, in some parts of Central and South America, people avoid Keel-Billed toucans due to widespread belief that they are associated with demons and evil spirits. Believe it or not, I think our national bird is better associated with a breakfast cereal character than a monster!

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About the Author: Tamara Sniffin

I’m a sucker for a fuzzy face, a feathered face, a face with fins or even one with scales! I am in love with the creatures and the flora that are synonymous with Belize and every opportunity I have to learn more about them and explore their wild habitats I am there! I’m the happiest when I’m snorkeling the reef and swimming with turtles, however my passion is not just limited to critters! Laced throughout this compact jungle gem of a country live the Kriol, Maya, Garifuna, Mestizo and Spanish people, and experiencing each culture, especially their celebrations is one of my favorite pastimes.

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