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Are Parrots and Toucans Related? What’s the Difference?

Genevieve Dugal

If you’ve ever eaten Froot Loops and watched the movie Paulie as a kid, then the magnificent birds that are toucans and parrots were likely to have marked your childhood. These charismatic creatures are indeed beautiful representatives of the class Aves; but, in addition to being colorful, are these birds also related?

Well, technically, no: Toucans are members of the Ramphastidae family, and their closest relative are American barbets. On the other hand, parrots are part of a large order that includes more than 350 birds; macaws, cockatoos, and parakeets are all considered “parrots”. Let’s find out what are the other main differences, as well as the similarities of these birds.divider-birds

Quick Facts about Parrots and Toucans

Toucan and Parrot
Image Credit: Left – Toucan(FINTANOBRIEN, Pixabay); Right – Parrot(BeckyTregear, Pixabay)
Common Name: Parrot Toucan
Scientific Name: Psittaciformes Ramphastidae
Family: Three superfamilies:
Cacatuoidea (cockatoos)
Psittacidae (true parrots)
Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots)
Ramphastidae
Lifespan: Up to 80 years Up to 20 years
Size: 3.5 inches to 40 inches 11 inches to 25 inches
Weight: 2.25 ounces to 3.5 pounds 4.5 ounces to 1.5 pounds
Diet: Omnivorous Frugivorous, omnivorous
Distribution: Oceania, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central America, South America, and Africa Southern Mexico, Central America, South America
Habitat: Warm climates Tropics, Rainforests

Toucan Overview

Toucan
Image Credit: suju-foto, Pixabay

Toucan is the common name designating the birds of the Ramphastidae family, in the order Piciformes. They are medium-sized climbing birds with huge, vividly colored beaks. The latter allows them to regulate their temperature. They also have a long tongue that helps them eating fruits and seeds. Toucans are found mainly in the Amazon rainforest.

Parrot Overview

Lears macaw parrot
Image Credit: Sandro Riedmann, Shutterstock

Parrot is a common term that refers to several species of the order Psittaciformes. Generally, these birds have a large and hooked beak, bright colors, and are good at imitating sounds.

Besides, parrots are divided into three superfamilies:

  • Cacatuoidea (cockatoos)
  • Psittacidae (true parrots)
  • Strigopoidea (New Zealand parrots)

Most of them are part of the family Psittacidae which include parakeets and parrotlets.

These birds are also known for their ability to speak, which is highly developed in some species. This is mainly why people love to keep parrots as pets.divider-birds

What Are the Differences Between Parrots and Toucans?

Habitat

Parrots are distributed all over the world; they can be found in tropical and subtropical continents such as Australia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central America, South America, and Africa. On the other hand, toucans are mainly located in South America and Central America. They thrive in hot, humid climates and rainforests.

Temperament

Although there are some differences between the 40 species of toucans, they are generally not very shy birds; for example, the Toco toucan, the largest and most famous of the toucans (the proud representative of the Froot Loops, Sam, is also a Toco) goes so far as to enter houses to steal food!

However, compared to parrots, toucans are not particularly gregarious animals; they prefer to fly in dispersed groups, one after another, rather than in compact flocks, like parrots. Moreover, it is rare to find more than one individual per cage in captivity, given that they are more solitary and territorial. On the other hand, parrots prefer to live with their peers, and some species even starve themselves to death if left on their own in their cage.

Diet

Toucans are frugivorous birds, which means they mainly eat fruit. In the wild, they will also consume small lizards, insects, eggs of other birds, and even young birds. They use their beaks like a pincer to grab their food. In addition, these birds do not consume a lot of water, as they get the fluids they need from the fruits they eat; this is one of the reasons why the toucans’ diet is mainly based on fruits.

In addition, one of the morphological peculiarities of toucans is that they do not have a crop – which is an organ of the digestive system of birds, which is used to store large portions of food before digestion.

Thus, toucans are not able to digest seeds like parrots. Besides, their stomachs are much smaller, so that they eliminate food very quickly after consuming it.

On the other hand, parrots are predominantly omnivorous: although their diet is mainly based on foods of plant origin, they can also eat foods of animal origin. Each of the 350 species of parrots have dietary peculiarities, but in general, the vast majority of parrots consume substantial amounts of fruits, vegetables, seeds, as well as small invertebrates such as insects.

Thus, a parrot in the wild will feed itself by adapting to the resources present in the environment where it lives:

  • Fruits
  • Flowers
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Seeds
  • Cereals
  • Insects
  • Small invertebrates

Since they devote more than half of their time and energy to foraging, parrots will prefer seeds and dried fruits, for their high energy intake.

Male vs Female

In general, parrots have a significant sexual dimorphism: males are easily recognizable, since they sport a much more colorful plumage to attract females, often with duller plumage.

In the case of toucans, it is more challenging to differentiate males from females, because this species does not exhibit sexual dimorphism in color. In contrast, the beak of males is often longer than that of females.

Lifespan

One of the most significant differences between parrots and toucans is their longevity. Indeed, parrots are known for their exceptional lifespan, especially when kept in captivity. Some species like the African gray parrot can live up to 80 years!

On the other hand, toucans, even those kept in captivity, rarely exceed the 30-year mark (although this is still impressive for a bird!).

Reproduction

Parrots lay eggs in nests perched on trees, cliffs or on the ground; females lay two to five eggs which they incubate alone or alternately with the male. After 17 to 30 days, the eggs hatch, and the female stays in the nest for a week or two until the first feathers appear to allow the chicks not to suffer from the cold. Then, a few weeks later, these will take off.

Toucans, for their part, are arboreal type: that is to say, they make their nests at the bottom of a hole dug in the rotten wood of a tree. The cavity, which just leaves the passage to the bird, can be used for several years in a row.

If the lodge is too narrow, the toucan may enlarge it but cannot drill through the healthy wood to create one. The laying usually consists of two to four eggs which the two adults take turns incubating. When hatching, the young are naked and blind, without the slightest down. They are fed on fruits and insects by the male and the female and grow in a few weeks. The plumage appears after a month. The departure of the nest takes place between 47 and 49 days.divider-birds

Is Keeping Toucans as Pets Different Than Keeping Parrots?

Unlike the different species of parrots, it is not very common to see toucans kept as companion birds. Also, it is not legal in all states to have such an animal in your home. Not only are they much more expensive than parrots (some pet toucans sell for over $10,000!), they are also more difficult to manage.

Indeed, toucans have more specific needs than parrots:
  • They require a larger cage, with plenty of perches and branches to reproduce their natural rainforest habitat.
  • They have more fragile health.
  • They are messier.
  • They can’t talk.
  • It is often necessary to hold a special permit to keep them in captivity.
  • They tend to be more aggressive and territorial towards other bird species.
  • They are more difficult to handle.

However, just like parrots, toucans are intelligent, playful and, once tamed, enjoy human company, although not as affectionate as parrots.divider-birds

Final Thoughts

As magnificent representatives of the great Aves class, parrots and toucans share some similar characteristics: they both have colorful and flamboyant plumage, are intelligent, playful, and can be kept in captivity (although this is a little more complicated in the case of the toucan). However, these bird species are not related, and diverge primarily in habitat, geographic distribution, diet, reproduction, and sexual dimorphism.


Featured Image Credit: Pabloavanzini, Shutterstock

Genevieve Dugal

Genevieve is a biologist and science writer. Her deep love for capuchin monkeys, pumas, and kangaroos has taken her worldwide to work and volunteer for several wildlife rehabilitation centers in Bolivia, Guatemala, Canada, and Australia. As a Canadian expat, Genevieve now lives in Argentina, where she wakes up every morning to horses and cows saying hello from the vast plain next to her home office window. She is the proud mom of three rescued dogs, Lemmy, Nala, and Pochi, and a frisky kitten, Furiosa. Having the privilege of sharing her knowledge and passion for animals of all kinds is what makes her fulfilled and happy.