Toucans and Toucanettes - Feeding

By Laurie Hess, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

General information

Our knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving. This is due both to heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition and to 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.

Toucans and toucanettes have a high moisture diet and a relatively short digestive tract, which make for a very quick transit time of food through their digestive tract. This means that your toucan or toucanette will eat A LOT and likely have frequent and often very loose, 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 toucanette eats?

Nutrition is commonly neglected with pet birds. You should discuss your toucan or toucanette's diet with your veterinarian. Too often, owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their toucan or toucanette when, in fact, they are not! Inappropriate diet is a common reason for many health problems in birds.

Hemochromatosis, or iron storage disease, in toucans and toucanettes has long been suspected to be related to high dietary iron. Bird owners must continually strive to improve their birds’ diets by both by educating themselves and by using their common sense. It is not sufficient just to feed a toucan or toucanette to maintain it; instead, bird owners should feed their birds 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 toucanette?

Toucans and toucanettes do not chew their food into pieces like parrots do, and unlike parrots, they do not have a crop (a dilated pouch of the esophagus) for the storage of food. Therefore, it is important food be presented to toucans and toucannettes in small, easy to swallow, bite-size pieces. Hemochromatosis is a dietary concern for captive toucans and toucanettes. Current dietary recommendations are for diets low in iron (ideally containing <90-100 parts per million in iron content).

Pelleted Diets
Some pelleted bird diets have excessively high iron values that may contribute to hemochromatosis in toucans and toucanettes. 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 toucanette and be sure to consult your veterinarian if you encounr any problems with diet or your bird’s health.

Fruits and Vegetables
In addition to a low-iron containing pellet, toucans and toucanettes should be offered a large variety of diced fruits, such as those listed at the end of this handout, every day and should constitute a large proportion of the diet. Citrus fruits and tomatoes should not be offered to toucans and toucanettes. These fruits contain citric acid that binds to iron which can lead to iron storage disease if ingested. Cut produce into manageable pieces, depending on the size of the bird, and offer a mixed fruit salad. Offer fruits in a separate dish from pellets. If your bird appears to develop a particular fancy for 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 various sliced, shredded or finely diced vegetables, as well, but vegetables should NOT be a large part of a toucan or toucanette's diet. Pale vegetables, with a high-water composition (e.g., iceberg or head lettuce, celery) offer very little nutritional value. Avocado is reported to be potentially toxic and should never be fed to toucans or toucanettes. Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals before they are fed.

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

What about other foods?

As a general rule, any wholesome, nutritious food that you and your family eat your bird can eat. Some birds even enjoy a small amount of hard-boiled egg occasionally. Avoid feeding high-fat or very salty foods, such as chips and pretzels, as well as garlic and onions, and other inappropriate foods containing chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol. Toucans and toucanettes may occasionally enjoy pinky mice or insects such as mealworms, wax worms, crickets, and other insects (soft-bodied insects are more nutritious). Follow the general guidelines discussed above and use your common sense.

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

Your veterinarian can help you assess your bird's diet and its particular 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 various times during a bird's life (e.g., egg laying requires calcium supplementation, growth requires additional protein). Calcium supplements are available if your toucan or toucanette is assessed by your veterinarian as deficient.

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

  • 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.
  • No single type of produce should be fed in excess.
  • Offer fresh non-citrus fruits and a smaller amount of vegetables every day.
  • Clean all food and water dishes daily.
  • No to a food item one day does not mean no forever - keep trying!

Some suggested food items include:

apples dandelion leaves peppers (green/red/hot) apricots dates plums asparagus endive pomegranate bananas figs potatoes (boiled) beets grapes pumpkin blueberries kale raisins (soaked overnight) bok choy kidney beans (cooked) raspberries broccoli lentils (cooked) rice (brown, cooked) Brussels sprouts lima beans (cooked) romaine lettuce cabbage melons soy beans (cooked) cantaloupe mango spinach carrots mung beans (cooked) spouted seeds carrot tops navy beans (cooked) squash cherries (pitted) parsnip strawberries chick peas peaches sweet potato coconut pears watermelon corn peas zucchini cucumber    

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