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Toco Toucans - Rio and Ruben
by Louise Prowse

I acquired Ruben 2 years ago from a vet friend of mine. He had a female but she was tame and would not accept Ruben at any price.

I think that toucans in general are stunning to look at and their beaks fascinate me. Their movements too are unique they seem to beat their wings quickly and bounce from branch to branch rather than flap and fly. Perhaps it is the fact that their flight feathers are quite short in comparison to other bird that makes them to do this. Probably an adaptation to their natural habitat in the rain forest.

Well getting Ruben a mate was a lot harder than I anticipated there are virtually no lone female Tocos in the UK. However in desperation 10 months ago I telephoned a gentleman in Ireland who was advertising a pair for sale in the hope that he may have an odd female. Needless to say he didn't but he was prepared to split the pair as he had someone who wanted the cock bird because it was tame. My feet didn't touch the floor She was collected from Anglesey as soon as we could arrange it. When she arrived I put her in Rubens aviary, which is 12 feet high 20 feet long and 15 feet wide with a heated shed attached. Toucans need some heat in our winter although they do go out during the day I do lock them in at night in the winter months. I put Ruben in an inside parrot aviary whilst Rio got used to his aviary.

Tocos can be extremely aggressive (which is why there are so few females) and the last thing I wanted Ruben to do was attack her.

After about 8 weeks we tried putting Ruben in with her. He had not forgotten one inch of his aviary and knew exactly where he was. They are extremely intelligent birds and are on a par with parrots barr the talking ability.

They did quite a lot of beak clashing and knocking each other of the perches. Luckily I had not only put a bowl of food inside but also one outside too. Their food consist of chopped fruit they have anything but citrus fruit, apples, sultanas, grapes, papaya, mango, peaches, tomatoes etc. I sprinkle this with a low iron toucan food. Mealworms and crickets are also favourites. In the wild they eat fledglings and other birds eggs amongst other things.

I also give them decaffeinated tea instead of water as the tannins in tea help prevent iron absorption. Toucans are very prone to iron storage disease and unfortunately this is what kills a lot of them in captivity.

I kept watch and made a couple of telephone calls to get some advice on their behaviour, as I knew nothing about toucan etiquette. I decided that to lock them both in the heated quarters was not an option and caught Ruben up and put him back in the parrot aviary inside. This not only stressed him but me too.

I decided to move them into one of the monkey enclosures, which were heated but also had outside quarters and two bob holes by way of cat flaps. So I meshed the middle of the inside quarters to divide it in two enabl9ng each to have their own cat flap entrance to the communal outside flight. This also enabled them to see each other at night when they were locked in and by fixing their bowls to the mesh they were also both eating next to each other. They quickly learnt to use the cat flaps and although they were still clashing beaks they were knocking each other off the perches less and less. When the weather improved at the beginning of may we moved them to their planted aviary on the lawn where we could keep watch on them we were not locking them in at night together as I was still unsure as to how they would react to each other in a confined space.

They seemed to be getting on very well and Ruben was feeding her so I put a sloping nest box in for them and filled it to the top with wood chips which I was told that they would remove to get to the layer of sand at the bottom. They were now treading every afternoon and he was constantly feeding her. He was also turfing out wood chip like it was going out of style the aviary floor was awash with them. Both of them were going in the nest box and then I noticed that Rio was a bit quiet and seemed fluffed up. I was a bit worried that she may be ill but then she seemed to perk up again so I continued to monitor them and realised that they were taking it in turns to go in the nest box.

On a need to know basis I looked in the nest box. As I opened the inspection door I wished that I hadn't a waterfall of wood chip greeted me but I couldn't shut the hatch as it opened down and not up and the small chips were jamming the hinges. When I eventually stemmed the flow and cleared a gap so I could shut the door I looked in and saw two lovely white eggs. I was quite concerned that the disturbance of the wood chip had disturbed things and that the eggs may get buried so I just had to keep my fingers crossed. So much for the theory that they would remove all the wood chip and lay on a solid base i.e. the sand in the bottom. Ruben and Rio obviously hadn't read the manual. I telephoned a friend who is a curator and he thought that I should substitute the eggs firstly to see if they were fertile and secondly because the hens are so short they did not want to loose any potential breeding stock. But as it was their first time and it meant hand rearing them with a glove puppet I opted for the obvious and left them where they were. The incubation period is 14 to 16 days so I did not have long to wait to see if they were fertile. Two weeks after I had seen the eggs Rio and Ruben were both out of the box behaving very strangely. It was about 5.30 in the afternoon and very hot and humid. They both seemed to be less than interested in the nest box and Ruben seemed to be chasing Rio a bit so I guessed that they had probably given up on the eggs as they weren't fertile. I thought that I would risk a look. I was stunned 2 babies wow. I managed to stem the flow of wood chips and shut the door.

They were still behaving strangely and going nowhere near the box but Ruben did seem to be chasing Rio a lot and then I realised that when she went towards the nest box he was chasing her away and forcing her to the floor. He then stuck his head in the box and I thought that he was going in to feed them but he came back out again. I was very concerned and made another telephone call. By now it was 10 o clock and I was advised to remove Ruben and that Rio would go back in the box. It worked as soon as I caught him up she went straight back in the box. Relief I left her to it as I didn't want to disturb her again by looking in.

The following morning I put food in for her she came out of the box ate and went back in. I was told to feed her pinkies so I did about midday at 2.00 she was out of the box on the floor of the aviary messing about in the grass and not interested in going back in the box. So I decided to have a look. Nothing. I went all through the wood chip still nothing. The babies had disappeared probably eaten.

With a heavy heart I shut the box and looked around the aviary and there in the grass was a headless baby the wing tips and feet had also been bitten off. There was no trace of the other one. To say I was disappointed would be putting it mildly.

I have come up with lots of reasons for their disappearance from the fact that he killed them when he went back in the box to they died of cold because they were off them for so long to the fact I gave her pinkies prompted her to eat them. I will never know.

So I guess its back to the drawing board and hopefully they will recycle in a couple of weeks and we can try again. I have not put so much wood chip in this time though so at least I wont get covered when I take a peek.

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