The keys to creating the best chances
of successful ramphastid breeding seem to be:
1. Low iron diet
2. Moderately warm climate
3. Suitable nest log
4. Suitable aviary design
5. A healthy, compatible pair
Climate and Air Quality:
In Riverbank’s experience, green aracaris and emerald toucanets can be bred indoors in artificially heated and air-conditioned enclosures just as easily as outdoors. These two species appear to be untroubled by conditioned (unnatural) air, perhaps because they have been acclimated to captivity through many generations of captive breeding. One would not expect other species of aracaris and toucanets to be so easily bred indoors, unless they had regular access to fresh air, or unless they too had undergone several generations of captive breeding.
Air quality appears to be even more important when considering the large ramphastids. Indeed, Riverbanks has never bred any toco, keel-billed or chestnut-mandibled toucans indoors, in spite of the fact that our indoor exhibits are even larger and better planted than those outside. For such species that have been seldom bred in captivity, the reality of being outside, with access to fresh air, sunlight and rain, is at least as important as the aviary size and design. I am sure it is not impossible to breed large ramphastids indoors; and toucans kept in properly air-conditioned spaces seem to be just as healthy as specimens housed outside. However, it is our experience that toucans are considerably more likely to breed outside, especially in our relatively mild climate.
Climate is one of the keys to our success. Toucans are able to live outside year-round without having to be chased or transferred into a heated shelter. Moreover, the onset of summer temperatures and higher levels of humidity in South Carolina equate to the climatic changes the toucans would have experienced during the breeding season in their countries of origin. Like the majority of the large toucan specimens in captivity, our keel-billed toucans and chestnut-mandibled toucans are wild caught. Our summer climate is therefore ideal for such birds and appears to be a significant breeding stimulus. However, winter nighttime temperatures in South Carolina get as low as 22 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures are dangerously low and can cause frost bitten toes if the aviary is not properly designed and furnished with a heat box. See Aviary Design. Even with the best protection, toucans should not be expected to withstand such temperatures for a prolonged period. In our region, relief is usually provided during the day when winter temperatures rise to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. And often we experience winter days of 60 or even 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Sunshine during the winter is of great importance: the orientation of the aviary southward is therefore highly beneficial.
Recently felled Palmetto palms can be tough and difficult for toucans to excavate, even if a hole is started for them. Partly decomposed trunks are more easily excavated, but it can take years for the tree to reach this stage of decomposition. To save time, we slice the log either vertically or horizontally with a chainsaw to expose the interior. The pulp is then cut away with the chainsaw according to the dimensions described above. The halves are then reassembled and permanently held together with metal bands.
"Bill fencing"prior to breeding is sometimes highly vigorous to the point of being aggressive. The bill of one or both birds may even be visibly scratched after such an encounter. However, this behavior appears to be an important part of ramphastid courtship, and provided the birds have a large aviary, neither bird should come to any harm.
Red-billed toucan excavating a nest cavity
Excavating their own cavity appears to represent an important part of the breeding process for both sexes in all of the ramphastid species kept at Riverbanks. It may help the pair to bond, and it certainly helps spark breeding activity. To provide the illusion that they are excavating their own cavity, we lightly pack the hollowed trunk with sphagnum moss, mud and bark mulch. In fact, for our birds, excavating the log can be such an effective breeding trigger that we carefully wait until the warm weather has arrived before packing the logs. In 1977 we packed the log of the breeding pair of toco toucans in February. The pair were so enthused, that they very excitedly "excavated" the log and gave the impression that they were going to breed. We were relieved when they in fact did not breed, since the weather was still cold and could have injured eggs, chicks or the female during egg laying. Typically we pack the toucan nest logs in April, or perhaps in March if it is unseasonably warm.
Toco, keel-billed and chestnut-mandibled toucans: Incubation period 17-19 days. Fledging period 5-6 weeks. Juveniles are self-feeding at approximately 9 weeks of age. We recommend that the juveniles be removed when they are independent since their parents may become aggressive following a desire to re-nest.
Saffron and emerald toucanets, and green aracaris: Incubation period 16 days.
Feeding Chicks: Emerald toucanet about to fledge
All of our ramphastid species receive live, 1" long crickets shortly before chicks are expected -- locusts would also be suitable. The crickets are offered in a bucket or plastic aquarium that is left in the aviary continuously. The container should have smooth sides that are about 12" high. The crickets cannot escape and do not need to have their legs removed. The birds have free access to the crickets which are fed to the chicks for the first several days. Toco toucans appear to feed crickets for the first week or two, although keel-billed toucans only seem to feed crickets for the first 2 or 3 days. Thereafter, an increasing amount of the adult diet is fed to the chicks. Until the chicks fledge, we supplement the diet with raisins and extra Hills Canine Kibble, both of which are soaked overnight in water. Pinkie mice are also added to the diet until fledging. While it is impossible to predict with certainty the feeding schedule and preferences of a given ramphastid species, it is safe to say that if all of these foods are available to the parents from day 1 of the chicks’ lives, the chances of success will be maximized.
Large quantities of Canine Kibble and pinkie mice fed over a prolonged period are likely to invite iron storage disease. We recommend converting the juveniles to the adult diet (with strictly limited Canine Kibble, no meats and no raisins) as soon as possible. For all of the ramphastids in the Riverbanks collection, this is achieved by about 7 weeks of age.