Toucans and Toucanettes - Feeding

By Rick Axelson, DVM

Care & Wellness, Nutrition

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. This means that your Toucan or Toucanette will eat a LOT and likely have frequent and often very loose projectile droppings. It is NOT uncommon to have blue droppings 15-20 minutes after eating blueberries!

Should I be concerned about what my Toucan or Toucanette eats?

"Hemochromatosis or iron storage disease in toucans and toucanettes has long been suspected to be related to high dietary iron."

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! This is a common reason for many health problems. Hemochromatosis or iron storage disease in toucans and toucanettes has long been suspected to be related to high dietary iron. It is important to continually strive to improve your bird's diet. This involves constantly educating yourself as well as a certain degree of common sense. It is not sufficient to feed a toucan or toucanette just to maintain life; instead, your goal should be to help it thrive and flourish. Your bird's health depends on how well it is fed.

What does my toucan or toucanette naturally eat?

Toucans and toucanette are omnivorous. That is to say, they are known to eat a variety of foods types 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 they do not have a crop for the storage of food; therefore it is important food be presented in small, easy to swallow, bite size pieces. Hemochromatosis or iron storage disease is a dietary concern for captive toucans and toucanettes. Current dietary recommendations are for diets low in iron.

Pelleted Diets
Some pelleted bird diets have excessively high iron values that may contribute to hemochromatosis or iron storage disease in toucans and toucanettes. Low-iron pellets for soft-billed birds are available. Dry kibble dog foods that are low in iron, such as U/D by Hills®, have been recommended by some. Since pellets and dog food are dry, the bird's droppings tend to be less messy. Some companies have reduced the iron content in their pellets to less than 90 ppm (90 mg/kg). Check with your veterinarian for the latest iron content recommendations, and be sure to consult your veterinarian if encountering any problems with diet or the health of your bird.

toucans_toucanettes-feeding-2Fruits and Vegetables

"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."

A large variety of diced fruits such as those listed at the end of this hand out should be offered every day, and should constitute a large proportion of the diet. A guideline is to feed 1/2 - 1 cup per bird per day. Cut them into manageable pieces depending on the size of the bird, and offer a fruit salad. Offer fruits in a separate dish. 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.

A small amount of various sliced, shredded or finely diced vegetables may be offered but this should NOT be a large part of a toucan or toucanette's diet. Pale vegetables, with a high water composition (i.e. iceberg or head lettuce, celery) offer very little nutritional value. Avocado is reported to be potentially toxic.

Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals.

Treat your bird like a small child; offer a small piece of a variety of food items daily and never stop trying. A well balanced diet must be maintained at all times.

  • Remember, you train the bird; do not let it train you.

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. With toucans and toucanettes, the water will be used to bathe in as well. 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. 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. It is common sense that junk food, chocolate, products containing caffeine and alcoholic beverages be avoided.

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

Your veterinarian can help you assess your bird's diet and its particular needs. One opinion suggests that a bird eating 75 - 80% of its diet in the form of pelleted food may 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). Calcium supplements are available if your toucan or toucanette is determined to be deficient.

Powdered supplements are often regarded as more stable such as Nekton-S® (by Nekton-Produkte), Quiko® or Prime® (by Hagen). Mix these products in water or preferably apply directly onto moist food.

"Mix these products in water or preferably apply directly onto moist food."

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.
  • Offer fresh fruits and 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:

*apple cherries (not the pit) *pear apricots Chinese vegetables (bok choy) peas asparagus coconut peppers (red/green & hot) *banana corn *pineapple beans (cooked) such as: cucumber *plum chick peas dandelion leaves pomegranate kidney *dates *potato (boiled) lentils endive pumpkin lima *fig *raisins (soaked overnight) mung *grapes raspberry navy grapefruit rice (brown) soy kale romaine lettuce beet kiwi spinach blueberry melons sprouted seeds broccoli mango squash brussel sprouts nectarines strawberry cabbage *orange sweet potato cantaloupe papaya tomato carrot parsnip *watermelon carrot tops peaches zucchini

* foods with lower iron for a toucan or toucanette.

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