The national bird of Belize is the keel-billed toucan, one of the world’s most recognizable and iconic avian species. The toucan has a largely black body with brilliant yellow chest feathers, but it is its oversize bill that makes it such a memorable bird. Toucans have large, curved bills in a brilliant spray of neon yellow, orange, red, green, and black that they used to snatch fruit and swallow whole.
Although many people are quite familiar with the way toucans look, it is the sounds that toucans emit that can be quite surprising. Many naturalists compare the vocalization of toucans to that of frogs croaking. Toucans are very social animals and are usually found in small flocks. On occasion, toucans will “fence” with their large bills or wrestle with fellow toucans.
Toucans are year-round residents of Belize and do not migrate to North America as many other bird species in Belize do. Both female and male toucans have identical coloring, but the bills of female toucans are usually a bit shorter and more “blocky” in appearance.
An adult toucan can grow up to around 20 inches (51 cm) long, and its bill is usually around half the length of its body or around 10 inches (25 cm). Despite its enormous size, the toucan’s bill is very lightweight, and scientists believe it is used as a kind of cooling system. In the wild, toucans live to around 15-20 years. Toucans also have very long tongues that can measure up to six inches long (15 cm) which they used to taste food.
Toucans are native birds to Central America and can be found as far south as northern Argentina. Toucans primarily reside in rainforests and establish nests in tree trunks with holes in them. When a toucan sleeps, it curls up in a ball much like a cat, making it difficult to spot high up in the jungle canopy.
If you’re interested in spotting some toucans in the wild or some of the other 600 species found in Belize, the best place to stay is the award-winning Caves Branch Jungle Lodge. Over 300 species have been recorded on the Lodge’s property, and Caves Branch regularly operates birding tours led by experienced naturalists. In addition to birding tours and all-inclusive birding packages, Caves Branch offers a wide range of adventures, including rappelling down the infamous Black Hole Drop and cave tubing (exploring underground rivers by inner tube).