Anybody who looks seriously into their parrot’s diet, walks away shaking their heads. Parrot nutrition is a very complex science and we are still learning new things everyday. There are sites online that deal only with parrot diet and nutrition and, more recently, there are pages dedicated solely to a holistic approach to the diet. But on the whole, we are still treading carefully when we feed our birds.
I believe a great deal of the knowledge we do have has been based on trial and error. We owners plod along blindly until something happens that causes us all to rethink what we are doing. Some birds might have a poor reaction to a particular food and it sends everyone scrambling to figure out why.Should we feed it, should we not?? Because there are so many parrots out there, and owners reporting problems and suspicions with certain foods, this science is starting to gain awareness.
Toucan owners do not have this advantage. It is not common to find a toucan living as a pet in the average bird home, and because of their lesser numbers in general, there are fewer incidents of problems reported for investigation. So while we still complain that we are winging it with our parrots, that is doubly true for the toucan owner. There is still a great deal to be learned.
For many years the toucan diet was thought to be similar to the parrot diet in which we serve seed, nuts and many varieties of green vegetables. It has been determined over the years that it was this feeding program that cause the untimely deaths of many, many toucans kept in captivity. What was unknown at that time is that, unlike parrots, the toucan body can extract most of the iron found in their foods and the liver will store it in excessive and deadly amounts.
This iron storage disease, called hemochromatosis, had aviculturists thinking for many years the the toucan species had very short lifespans in comparison to similarly sized parrots, when in fact, they were dying prematurely due to our ignorance about their dietary needs.The toucan diet must be very low in iron to counter balance the amount their bodies retain,
The wild toucan diet consists mainly of fruits and insects, but they also eat rodents, reptiles, and will raid the nests of smaller bird species for their eggs and nestlings. In captivity, they have been surviving well for years on a diet of fruit (mainly papaya, melon, grapes and berries) and low iron pellets for soft bills. (Citrus fruits should be avoided because vitamin C has a part in increasing the body's absorption of iron).
Because of their propensity towards hemochromatosis, their drinking water should also be monitored. Some bottled waters, as well as the water coming from our faucets, might have levels of iron that are unsafe for the toucan. You should have the water in your home checked for its iron content, or as an alternative, many vets suggest the use of steam distilled water.
Toucans make wonderful pets. There are a lot of advantages to their personalities that make them exceptional companions, such as their oh-so quiet-ness, but they do have some pretty specific needs as well. Lucky us that we get to watch the Womachs raise brand new baby Rocko right from the beginning.
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.