Fallacy: A toucan can’t fly because its beak is too heavy

Is it true that a toucan can’t fly because its beak is too heavy? No, this is a fallacy – it is not true.

The Toco Toucan (Ramphastos toco) is a large bird in the Ramphastidae family. It has a very large, yellow-orange beak with a black band at the base and a large spot at the tip. 

However, the beak is not heavy.

Toco Toucan

Its beak is structured like polystyrene foam – very lightweight. It is made of keratin (like the material in human fingernails) in a network of bony fibres or hairs. 

The beak, or bill, weighs about 540 grams (19 ounces). It uses its beak to eat insects, frogs, reptiles, birds, bird eggs, and especially fruit. It can reach across a branch to select a piece of fruit with its beak, and then it tilts its head back to swallow it.

But, its beak is large. It is 16-23 centimetres (6-9 inches) long, which is a third of its body length of 60-66 centimetres (24-26 inches). 

The Toco Toucan can fly. However, this large-sized beak tends to imbalance the Toco Toucan, making it cumbersome in flight. So, instead of flying, it prefers to hop from branch to branch using its strong, short legs.

The Toco Toucan is native to countries in South America, particularly in Brazil, but also in Peru, Argentina, and Paraguay. It prefers semi-open habitats, such as woodlands and savannahs. 

Toco Toucan

Location of photographs: Parc Zoologique de Paris in Bois de Vincennes, France

Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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