Bird Fact Friday – Why does the Toucan have such a large, colorful bill?

From page 273 in The New Neotropical Companion:

Photo by James Adams

Perhaps more than any other kind of bird, toucans symbolize the American tropics. With a prominent boat-shaped, colorful bill almost equal in length to the body, the toucan silhouette is instantly recognizable. Toucans’ seemingly oversize bills are actually lightweight. Colorful patterns adorn most ramphastid bills; they may possibly be used for signaling in mate selection. Recent studies on the Toco Toucan have demonstrated that the birds are able to radiate excess heat from their long, vascularized bills. In a paper by Glenn Tattersall and colleagues, the researchers conclude that the toucan bill is “relative to its size, one of the largest thermal windows in the animal kingdom, rivaling elephants’ ears in its ability to radiate body heat.”

Toko Toucan. Photo by John Kricher

The New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.