I stepped out of my house for a walk this morning and glanced over at the Christmas palm trees behind a Cyclone fence and–Eureka!–I saw a Keel-billed Toucan staring down at me from atop the fence.
I promptly went in the house and got my binocs and was treated to the quiet excitement of getting a long, closeup look at this strange but beautiful bird that tourists come from the world around to see.
It’s not like I rarely see a Keel-bill–the national bird of Belize– when I’m out tramping around in the bush or walking along a river. I once had one fly so close over my head on BZ’s beautiful Mopan River that I almost could have jumped up and grabbed him (not that you can actually grab a bird in flight unless you’re Superman and I’m no Donald Trump who of course is more super in every way than Superman).
Anyway, I live in town and toucans aren’t town birds. They generally nest and nurture their young high up in the cavities of tall trees where they also get their fruits. Unlike the coconut trees, the decorative Christmas palms outside my humble abode are not tall at all.
Best known for its oversized bill and vibrant colors, the Keel-billed Toucan is a large bird with black plumage, a bright yellow throat and cheeks, deep red feathers under its tail and a yellow-green face.
Its light green, banana-shaped bill is splashed with orange and tipped with red and blue. Its bill is so long it can grow to be a third of the size of the toucan’s 20-inch body.
The bill looks heavy and cumbersome, but it in fact is light because it’s made of protein and supported by hollow bones. Its the bird’s broad wings that are heavy and make flight laborious, even though a toucan seems to me to fly and sometimes fly fast without effort.
After we looked each other over a while, my backyard friend the toucan moved from the fence to a palm with its big, bright-red berries. A toucan’s long bill enables it to reach out and grab fruit, but creates a challenge to swallowing.I watched as this one seized a berry by the tip of the bill, jerked the bill up and simultaneously opened its mouth, popping the nut to the back of its throat and swallowing.
It then looked right at me as if to say, “How you like them apples?”
It hung around quietly for another five minutes or so (I’ve heard toucans “sing” and their singing sounds a lot like a frog cracking), popping an occasional berry, before it went sailing off into the distance.
I don’t know why this particular toucan decided to show up in, of all places, my back yard in this city I live in early this morning, undoubtedly a good long way away from its home in the hole of some tall tree in the bush.
But it’s certainly welcome to come back for a meal at my place anytime.