Photo by www.villatoucan.com Of: Keel Billed Toucan
Fiji is my three year old Swainson Toucan and ever since learning and really just diving into the world of freeflight, I've wanted to convert my entire flock over to it! Especially after having much success with my Congo African Grey, Cressi. I have been considering long and hard if I should give it a try with my toucan, Fiji. She has never been too keen on flying nor has she been that great or graceful at it in the past. She has always preferred to hop from point A to B instead of fly. She had bad luck growing up and somehow always managed to break her tail feathers every which way so she was always wrongfully balanced which made it hard to flight train her. I assumed it was just her personality to want to hop instead of fly, thinking it had to do with her many broken feathers in the past making it too frustrating of an experience.
When I mentioned her behavior to my friend Susan, she looked into toucans more as candidates for freeflight. I had considered buying a new baby toucan to do it with so that maybe that would help ease Fiji into it. Susan wrote me a few weeks later saying that she had talked to a specialist in the toucan area who said it was natural for toucans to prefer to hop and that because of it, they are not the best candidates for freeflight. Merely because, well, they don't really like to fly unless they have to. I wanted to do my own research and make sure since a freeflighted toucan seemed so fun and different. Plus, I really wanted to give this life of freedom to Fiji. I came across one website that told me how flight with toucans is only used to go from tree top to tree top for various fruits and to raid other birds' nests. They seemed like cautious fliers that weren't all that willing to follow the leader all the time. The website also mentioned how toucans are not skilled like parrots or pigeons with their flocking abilities and various manuevers for predator avoidance such as jinking. Admittedly, I still wasn't convinced. I just kept thinking that they would look intimidating enough to other birds and predators that they would be safe, right? Wrong.
I then came across another website with even more information on toucan flight. "Naturalists have long puzzled over the significance of the toucan's large bill. Originally, observers suggested that the bill was a weapon used to defend the nest cavity. This is not so; when toucans sense danger, they come out of the cavity entrance in a hurry, threatening the enemy only out in the open, if at all. Instead, a long bill enables these rather heavy birds to pluck berries from the tips of branches without leaving a stable perch. A thin, dark-colored bill would, however, be just as useful for this purpose. Possibly the toucan's bill plays a role in pair formation and in the social life of the group. According to E. Thomas Gilliard, it acts as a signal. However, toucans can also use their bills to threaten those birds whose nests they plunder. Tyrant flycatchers and even small raptors are frightened by the giant bill, which is even more effective because of its lively colors, and they fly about helplessly while the toucans devour their young or eggs. Other birds will attack a toucan only while it is in flight, because it is then unable to defend itself with its bill." Basically, toucans are scary to these large predator birds but are made to be very vulnerable and defenseless in the air while in flight making them a bad candidate for freeflight.
Article by Jamieleigh Womach. She has been working with parrots and toucans since the age of 17. She isn’t homeless but is home less than she prefers to be. She travels the world with her husband, daughter, and a flockful of parrots whom she shares the stage with.