Toucans and Toucanets: Feeding

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

General Information

Our knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving, due to heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition as well as increased research into birds’ different needs. As with all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Different species of birds often require different foods. (Photo at right shows an Aracari toucan; photo courtesy of Gregory Rich, DVM.)

Toucans and toucanets are members of the family of birds called Rhamphastidae. They require a high moisture diet and have a relatively short digestive tract, so food moves quickly through their digestive tract. This means that your toucan or toucanet will eat a large volume of food and likely have frequent, often very loose, and sometimes projectile droppings. It is not uncommon for them to have blue droppings 15–20 minutes after eating blueberries!

Should I be concerned about what my toucan or toucanet eats?

Proper nutrition is commonly not administered to most pet birds. You should discuss your toucan or toucanet’s diet with your veterinarian. Do your research before acquiring one of these phenomenal birds. Too often, owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their toucan or toucanet when they are not. Poor nutrition and feeding an unbalanced diet are common reasons for many health problems in pet birds.

"A bird's health depends on how well it is fed."

Hemochromatosis, or iron storage disease, in toucans and toucanets has long been suspected to be related to high dietary iron. Bird owners must continually strive to improve their birds’ diets by educating themselves about the dietary and environmental needs of the birds they have. It is not sufficient to feed a toucan or toucanet just to maintain it; instead, bird owners should feed their birds an optimum and balanced diet to help them thrive and flourish. A bird's health depends on how well it is fed.

What does a toucan eat in its natural environment?

Toucans are omnivorous. In the wild, they eat a variety of foods, including a multitude of fruits and berries, plus lizards, rodents, small birds, and an assortment of insects.

What should I feed my toucan or toucanet?

Toucans and toucanets do not chew their food into pieces like parrots do. Unlike parrots, members of the family Rhamphastidae do not have a crop (a dilated pouch of the esophagus) for the storage of food. Therefore, it is important for food to be presented to toucans and toucanets in small, easy to swallow, bite-size pieces.

Hemochromatosis is a dietary concern for captive toucans and toucanets. Currently, a low iron diet is recommended. Ideally, the diet’s iron content should be less than 90–100 parts per million.

(Photo at right shows a Toco toucan; photo courtesy of Gregory Rich, DVM.)

Pelleted Diets

Some pelleted bird diets have excessively high iron levels that may contribute to hemochromatosis in toucans and toucanets. Low-iron pellets for soft-billed birds are commercially available. Since pellets are dry, birds eating pellets tend to have less messy droppings. Check with your veterinarian to see what brands of pellets he or she recommends for your toucan or toucanet and be sure to consult your veterinarian if you encounter any problems with diet or your bird’s health.

Fruits and Vegetables

In addition to a daily diet of low-iron pellets, toucans and toucanets should be offered a large variety of diced fresh fruits, such as those listed below. Fresh fruit should constitute a large proportion of the daily food intake. Do not offer citrus fruits and tomatoes to toucans and toucanets. These fruits contain citric acid that binds to iron, which can lead to iron storage disease if ingested.

Cut the produce into manageable pieces, depending on the size of the bird, and offer a mixed fruit salad. Fruits should be offered in a separate dish from pellets so the pellets do not become mushy from the fruit juices. If your bird appears to particularly like one food item, reduce its volume, or stop feeding it temporarily, to promote the eating of other foods.

You may offer a small amount of sliced, shredded, or finely diced vegetables, in addition to fruit, but vegetables should not constitute a large part of a toucan or toucanet’s diet. Pale vegetables, such as celery and iceberg or head lettuce, have a high water composition and offer very little nutritional value, and as such should not be fed to your bird. Avocado is potentially toxic and should never be fed to toucans or toucanets. Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove harmful microorganisms or chemicals before they are fed.

Suggested food items include:

  • Fruits: apples, banana, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, coconut, grapes, mango, melons, papaya, peaches, pears, plums, strawberries, watermelon
  • Vegetables: beets, bok choy, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cucumber, endive, hot peppers, kale, peppers (green/yellow/red), sprouted seeds, squash, sweet potato, zucchini

The following can be offered in small quantities but not daily, due to high iron content: beans, corn, grapes, peas.


Fresh, clean water must always be available. Depending on the quality of your tap water, you might consider using bottled water. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day with soap and water. Toucans and toucanets typically bathe in their water, as well as drink it. Keep it clean.

What about other foods?

In general, any wholesome, nutritious food that you and your family eat, your bird can eat too, with the following exceptions:

  • no salty foods (corn chips, potato chips or pretzels),
  • no foods cooked with butter or oil,
  • no canned foods,
  • no cookies or candies, and 
  • no starchy foods (pasta, rice).

Some birds enjoy a small amount of hard-boiled egg, occasionally. Avoid feeding garlic and onions, and other inappropriate foods containing chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol. Toucans and toucanets may occasionally enjoy “pinky mice” (mice used as food), or insects such as mealworms, wax worms, crickets, and other insects (soft-bodied insects are more nutritious). Follow the general guidelines discussed above.

Does my bird need extra vitamins, minerals, or amino acids?

Your veterinarian can help you assess your bird's diet and its needs. In general, healthy birds eating 75-80% of their diet as pellets generally do not need supplements. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at certain times during a bird's life (e.g., egg laying requires calcium supplementation, growth requires additional protein). Calcium supplements are available if your bird’s veterinarian determines they need them.

What pointers should I remember about feeding my toucan or toucanet?

  • Always monitor the amount of food eaten every day by each bird.
  • Offer fresh water every day.
  • Offer a variety of fresh foods every day.
  • Feed no single type of produce in excess.
  • Offer fresh, non-citrus fruits and a small amount of vegetables every day.
  • Clean all food and water dishes daily.
  • When offering a new food item, be consistent and offer it for 4–5 days in a row before giving up.
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