The Toucan Lady’s New Blog Series for Bird Tricks

I am excited to announce that I am beginning a new blog series for the wildly popular bird training company, Bird They have been an enormous help to me in my first year with the Three-Cans in all things related to bird training, care, and enrichment.

artwork by Luiza Roli

My first post has just been published and I thought I would share it here. While I will not be sharing all of my future posts in the series on this site (they will most likely all be about parrots), I thought all of our toucan friends would enjoy reading a bit about my training history with the Three-Cans and how I overcame many of their behavioral issues using the Bird Tricks training program.

Here is the post:

Introducing Bird Tricks Fan & Blogger Chrissann Nickel & Her 3 Toco Toucans

If you would like to continue to follow this blog series, be sure to check in over at the Bird Tricks Facebook page for all of the latest posts. I’m also looking for people to share their own training success stories, so if you’re a Bird Tricks fan yourself, contact me at to apply.


Finding Equality with Multiple Birds

When we first adopted the Three-Cans, all adult birds with varying degrees of trust issues due to their less-than-ideal past, I had my work cut out for me. I desperately wanted to have a positive, loving, pet-like relationship with all three of them and immediately created a plan to overcome their fears and break down their barriers through training and other bonding activities.

Spending time with the Cans

In the beginning, I was really concerned about keeping things “fair”. I had hoped to progress with each of them at a similar pace by making sure I gave them all equal amounts of focus and attention. I naively figured that because I was starting from scratch with each of them, things would move along in a neat little line and before I knew it, I would be snuggling up with all three of my docile, handle-able toucans.

In hindsight, I realize how much pressure I was putting on myself. However long I played with Paco dictated the amount of time I had to play with Paz and Pepe. If they didn’t engage with me for as long as Paco did (which very often, they did not), I would leave feeling guilty and like a failure. All I could focus my energy on was trying to come up with solutions to make things equal. I just need to find the right game for Paz  or  I need to find some way to hold Pepe’s interest longer  were thoughts that would occupy my mind. But what I was failing to see was that these were not problems that needed to be solved, but rather, varying personalities that needed to be acknowledged and accounted for.


It took me some time to realize that “fair” didn’t necessarily translate into everything being exactly equal for all three, but more that they were being given what they needed as individuals.

Paco is by far the neediest of the three and therefore demands the most of my time. He has chosen me as his “mate” and would gladly spend 24 hours a day by my side if he could. If I am present, Paco could literally care less about anyone or anything else. This means that whenever I am in his enclosure, he is interested and engaging in whatever I have going on, jumping on me like a jungle gym, and lovingly feeding me his treats and toys. Paco overcoming his fear of the indoors has been an important step in increasing his well-being as it allows him to spend even more time with me.

Me & my sidekick, Paco

Paz, on the other hand, desires the least amount of interaction from me or anyone else. My best guess is that no one really spent much time with her in her past life, probably due to and therefore increasing her very timid nature. She is learning to enjoy my company more and more with time, but so far, she still doesn’t like being handled and only wants to play for short bursts of time if I have something really interesting and she is kept in a steady stream of blueberry rewards. I have definitely seen progress in our past year together and know we will certainly get closer with time and consistent trust-building, but I do realize that she is more of a wild spirit than the two boys and may never really want or be capable of lowering her guard to become more of a “pet”. I accept and respect that.

Sharing a banana with my sweet girl, Paz

Pepe falls somewhere in the middle of the other two. His need for attention varies from day to day, depending on his moods. In most instances, he will hop down, eager to be near us, while other occasions, he seems perfectly content to stay up high and enjoy his own company. Pepe’s favorite game is catch and he will play focused sessions with enthusiasm, often multiple times per day in short increments, sometimes even as long as 15-20 minutes at a time. Pepe’s training continues to progress slowly, as it is very important to him that I respect his boundaries. I have learned the hard way several times by pushing him too-far, too-fast, and having to take several steps backward in our training to re-build the trust it took so long to establish. I have learned to follow Pepe’s lead in my interactions with him, giving him as much or as little space as he requires with the day.

Training time with Mr. Pepe

I still struggle with my dreams of creating the same relationship I have with Paco with Paz and Pepe, mostly because I feel it would increase their quality of life to be able to get out and explore more. However, at the same time, I realize that I may never experience the closeness with them as I do with Paco, but can appreciate our relationships for what they are and continue to work on expanding them at their pace. There is so much to celebrate in each of their unique personalities, especially now as I learn more about what they need and what makes each of them their happiest. Most importantly, I have been able to come to terms with my new definition of “fair” which allows me to release the guilt and instead, feel a sense of accomplishment in realizing that Paco, Paz, and Pepe are each getting exactly what they need in this moment.


We’re Molting!

Paco, Paz, and Pepe are all currently well into their annual molt, which started to really kick into full swing a little over a month ago. This is our first full molt with them. When we brought them home last year, their molts had already begun, so this has been a really interesting experience for us to share.

As usual, I’ve been snapping away to document this amazing process. I thought I’d share a little photo journal with you of our first molt together…


Because we have not just one, but Three-Cans, the feathers are literally flying around here. I am not able to collect them all, as many fly by the wayside or end up stuck in a pile of papaya poop, but I am able to gather up enough that I can almost build my own toucan at this point!

Each time I pick up one of their discarded feathers, the Three-Cans give me looks that I can only interpret as disgusted disapproval. They can’t seem to fathom why I would want the old, shabby feather that just dropped from their body and they make no effort to disguise their disdain as I slip them into my treat pouch. Ah, well. One toucan’s trash is this Toucan Lady’s treasure. ;)

To me, the new pin feathers look painful as they emerge from the skin.

But the birds don’t appear to be in any pain – just itchy. During the molt, they spend a lot of extra time bathing,

sunning themselves,

and preening. Paco has been extra-snuggly, preferring me to do the majority of his preening for him.

My favorite feathers are these tiny ones. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they came from a much smaller bird.

We were surprised to discover that their white chest feathers are not just solid white as they appear,

but black on the tips, which is what creates the shockingly perfect line of their bib.

The most interesting feathers by far are the red under tail feathers. You would assume by looking at them on the Cans that the feathers that would drop would be all red.

But instead, they are very soft, delicate, and wispy and actually transition in color beginning at their base from black, to white, to red.

Nature never ceases to amaze me. The attention to detail that went into creating these stunning birds is nothing short of incredible. Time and time again, my life with the Three-Cans reminds me that it’s by noticing the little things that you experience a true sense of appreciation for the big things.


For a little action to accompany these pics, here’s a video of Paco doing some sunshine preening…


Meet Rafi the Collared Aracari: Toucan Species Special Feature

Today we continue in my series of special feature toucan interviews with Rafi, a gorgeous representative of the Collared aracari species. This will probably conclude the series for the time being, unless we find any other toucan friends with interesting species of toucans who wish to share their lives with us. Just in case you missed them, you can check out my previous interviews with Touk the Green Aracari, Pixie the Swainson’s, Pogo the Keel-Billed, Yoshi the Emerald Toucanet, and The Curl-Crested Aracari Crew.

Meet Rafi!

Collared aracaris are among the smaller species in the toucan bunch, considered a toucanet, generally weighing around 6.5 ounces at around a foot long. They are not endangered and are a highly visible, prevalent species in their native territories across Central America, moving about in small flocks of 6 or more birds. According to Emerald Forest Bird Gardens, they are “the most common toucanet in American aviculture today, thanks to its importation in good numbers since 1995 and its willingness to readily breed in captivity”. Known for their friendly, cuddly personalities, they are one of the toucan species most easily kept as pets.

Rafi is a 4 year old Collared aracari that resides in San Francisco, California with his beloved human companion, Emily. I met Emily through her sister, Tonia, who is owned by Pogo the Keel-Billed toucan. From his sweet, easy-going nature and his rugged good looks, Rafi is certainly one I consider to be a model toucan, representing toucans everywhere with all the best qualities that a toucan has to offer.

Rafi does toucan yoga!

Hi, Emily! How did you first become interested in toucans? How did you come to adopt Rafi?

My family and I had smaller psittacines while I was growing up – peach-faced lovebirds, cockateils, and parakeets. While I have always loved birds, I did not initially set out to adopt a toucan and the means by which I acquired Rafi are a bit unusual.

I accompanied my sister and brother-in-law down to Jerry Jenning’s Emerald Forest Bird Gardens in San Diego County one weekend, as I was interested in seeing his set-up and meeting some of the various toucan species that he had available. My dad and aunt also live in the same town, so that was extra-incentive to go down that weekend.

While hanging out in the nursery, I became enamored with a beautiful, loving Triton cockatoo named Chewie, who was about a year old. I didn’t have any expectations that I would be adopting a bird, but I fell totally in love with Chewie. After getting back home and thinking things through more clearly (as well as considering the wise advice of my sister and others), it became rather obvious that a large cockatoo would be a terrible choice for me. Living in San Francisco, I have close neighbors on both sides with common walls. I also travel frequently and sometimes work long hours. It was clear that a cockatoo would not be a good fit.

So, realizing that I really did want to add a bird to my life, but not necessarily a cockatoo, I began to look at other options. It seemed like an aracari would be the ideal bird for me: quiet, independent, loving, gregarious, and unlikely to bond with solely one person. Fortunately, Jerry had this little 6 week old Collared aracari available at exactly the right time and that’s how I came to adopt Rafi.

Rafi in action

He was just 7 weeks old when I brought him home, so I did twice-daily formula feedings for the first two weeks to supplement his fruit and pellet diet. When Flavia, one of the Emerald Forest employees, handed me Rafi the day I went to pick him up, she said he was the “sweetheart of the nursery”. He really has been the ideal pet. I am extremely lucky.

Your sister, Tonia, adopted Pogo the Keel-Billed toucan at the same time as you were adopting Rafi. What made you decide to adopt a Collared aracari, rather than a larger toucan such as Pogo?

Besides the significant financial investment of purchasing a large toucan, I was also not ready to take one on due to space reasons. I didn’t have a good place to put a large aviary. Noise was another reason. As mentioned above, I have close neighbors and frequent croaking or yelping may not have been very well received.

How would you compare your experience with an aracari compared with Tonia’s experience with Pogo?

Tonia & I laugh at how different our two birds are. These differences were not readily apparent when we first brought them home, but have become so pronounced as they’ve gotten older. Rafi is snuggly, loves everyone, travels well, and can be a bit timid. Pogo is super active, smart, gets into everything, and can be extremely temperamental, aggressive, and moody – especially in the spring. I have not experienced any of the hormonal angst with Rafi that Tonia and Armando have with Pogo. I am thankful for that. I’m not even sure Rafi is a “he”, as the Collared aracaris are not sexually dimorphic birds and I never had him sexed.

Bathtime for Rafi

What is a typical day in your life with Rafi like?

I wake up around 5:30 am to go to work. Raf sleeps tucked in a towel, fleece, or other sweatshirt next to my bed. I usually let him sleep in a little, then he gets up and hangs out in the kitchen on the sink faucet while I chop his fruit and prepare his Mazuri pellets. While I am getting ready in the bathroom, he loves to perch atop my shower or the door of the medicine cabinet. His favorite pastime is pulling various things off the shelves and throwing them down in the sink. He gets tucked in his large cage with the radio left on for him during the day. I also leave treats in some foraging toys in his cage to help pass the time.

Signature Toucan Sun-Worshipping

Unless it is really overcast and cold, Raf reliably takes a daily drenching bath in a large bowl, which is usually a 30 minute ritual from start to finish. He absolutely loves water. Depending on my day, I am home from early afternoon to late evening. On days I work late, my mom will stop by to have a “Granny Bird Day” where she lets Raf out to bask in the sunshine and fly around my house for several hours.

When I get home, Raf has free reign of the house. He usually gets some sort of evening treat – a bit of hard-boiled egg, blueberries, or a small piece of cheese. He shows a lot of interest in whatever I am eating or preparing, probably more for social reasons than anything else. Just the other day, I had finished making chicken tikka masala and he flew to the stove and grabbed a large piece of chicken off my plate. I had to wrestle it out of his bill. He was unhappy about that, but I quickly diced up a cherry instead and he seemed reasonably pacified.

Rafi, tucked in for a good night's rest!

In the evenings, usually around sunset, he loves to tuck into my sweatshirt or fleece jacket and fall asleep. Once he’s asleep, I wriggle out of the jacket and tuck him in for the night.

Have you trained Rafi to do any special behaviors? If so, was it difficult?

Not really. He will fly to me and land on my outstretched arm while I am getting ready in the bathroom in the morning. Raf has sort of learned that there are “designated pooping areas” in the house – certain perches and over the sink. Unfortunately, he doesn’t necessarily poop in those places all the time. It’s a work in progress. I was trying to train him to catch a small cat ball, but lately, he seems to be afraid of many of his toys. He’s very fickle that way.

What is your favorite thing about aracaris?

I love the sweet disposition and snuggly quality of aracaris. This seems to be pretty universal, at least in the aracaris I’ve met. While my friend, Jeff, was renovating part of his house, his two Curl-Crested aracaris, Oskar and Rocky, both spent some time living with Rafi and me on separate occasions. I can say from experience that both of his Curls are equally as sweet and loving as Rafi is with huge personalities.

Rafi & his Curl-Crested pal, Rocky

I also love Rafi’s vocalizations. He makes this endearing chattering sound every time I come home from work or when he hasn’t seen me for a little while. His alarm call / “don’t mess with me” vocalization is also funny – kind of a higher pitched , stuttering sound. He makes it reliably when I pull the plastic wrap container out from my kitchen drawer. Funny bird.

Would you recommend an aracari as a pet? What would you tell someone before they chose to adopt one?

I would highly, highly recommend an aracari as a pet – probably more so over a larger toucan, given what I have observed from other’s experiences. I would definitely tell someone planning to adopt an aracari to be prepared for a bit of a mess. Rafi has definitely earned his nickname “blender with no lid”. Be ready for lots of fruit-flinging and pooping. Fortunately, my couch is made of stain-resistant fabric and I have hardwood floors, which helps with the clean-up, but the clean-up is constant. I am continuously wiping down my window sills, floors, and scrubbing Raf’s cage, etc. Just as I seem to complete the circuit, I start over again. I should buy OxiClean by the vat at Costco.

Also, be prepared to chop fruit every morning. This has become a daily ritual that is programmed into my morning routine. In fact, when I am on vacation or traveling, I feel like my morning isn’t complete if I’m not dicing papaya, banana, grapes, etc. Also, it helps to have a good, reliable birdsitter who doesn’t mind taking on these tasks while I am away from home.

Rafi the Aracari Stowaway


Thank you very much Emily for taking the time to share your wonderful life with Rafi with us! All of the pictures in the post were provided by Emily.


The Top 10 Things I Love Most About Tocos

Today is the one year anniversary of when we adopted Paco, Paz, and Pepe. As with any significant passage of time, it’s hard to to believe it’s already been a year and at the same time, even more difficult to believe it’s only been a year. I feel like we’ve known each other forever, yet still manage to get surprised when new behaviors crop up. Either way, time flies when you’re having fun, especially when that fun is with not just tou-, but Three-Cans. They have changed my life in a myriad of positive ways and I am so grateful they found their way into my now 3x larger heart.

I figured today was the perfect day to celebrate everything that is uniquely wonderful about Toco toucans, mostly in general, and some more specific to our Three-Cans. Here are the Top 10 Things I Love Most About Tocos, in no particular order…


Their near-obsessive commitment to bathing and personal cleanliness

I am a big fan of self-cleaning animals (actually, self-cleaning anything, for that matter). I have given my fair share of stinky dog baths to be able to genuinely appreciate the perfect beauty of an animal that tends to its own hygiene. Toco toucans are not just clean, but meticulously so. Exhaustively rubbing and scrubbing their beak after every drink, every bite of food, to ensure they’re not embarrassing themselves bopping around with banana smeared on their face. They bathe more frequently than some humans I know – drenching themselves thoroughly and preening their feathers to a fluffy sheen. The best part is they always smell so exquisitely fresh, an indescribable clean toucan essence – I wish Yankee Candle Co. would make a special edition scent of it. I am absolutely certain it would outsell that clean laundry disaster of a fragrance in record time.

Their purring…their sweet, sweet purring sound

Their main communicative noise, their purring sound, is one of my favorite notes in nature. The unique trill of covert origin is music to my ears whenever it’s uttered, regardless of whether it’s intended in happiness or warning.

Their curiosity almost always wins out over fear

I call the Three-Cans my little monkeys and a lot of that has to do with their endless sense of curiosity. When introduced to something potentially frightening, their first response is often fear (they are birds after all), yet in almost the next instant, they’re leaning in, craning their necks to try and figure out the mysterious new addition. If they spoke, it would all be one long, flowy sentence of emotion, “I’m scared, I’m scared! But oooooh, what exactly is that? Show me more!”

Their general bounciness

I LOVE that toucans are hoppers. Nothing against any of the other birds who walk, but the toucan hop is the finishing touch on their bright, enthusiastic spirit.

Their bottomless appetite

I was initially shocked at the amount of food that goes into those tiny bodies each day but when I saw how much came out, it all made sense. Tocos eat about every 15 minutes and therefore, go to the bathroom at roughly the same frequency. Their fast metabolism is a huge benefit for training, as they’re always willing to work for blueberries, no matter when they last ate. I enjoy filling their tummies with deliciousness and it’s an ideal match that they are almost always hungry for more.

Their lush, plush chest and head feathers that are so soft, you’d almost think it was fur

Cuddling with Paco is one of my favorite things in the world to do. Burying your face in his fine, wispy neck feathers with your eyes closed is like finding solitude in your favorite childhood stuffed animal – except Paco is real and warm and cuddles into you right back.

They are always excited to see you, whether it’s been 5 hours or 5 minutes

I walk around this island feeling bigger than Bieber due to the wild toucan greetings I receive every time I emerge from my front door. I’m trying not to let it go to my head but I do have to admit my personalized toucan lyrics that I croon just for them are quite inspired. I would miss me too. Okay, sorry – I said I’m trying.

They never miss out on an opportunity to soak up the sun

I both adore and envy their commitment to maintaining their tan. At the first sign of a ray of sunshine, their wings are spread, head cocked at an angle to absorb it fully. The way they zonk out in the beaming heat seems to be their specialized toucan meditation, one they continue to master with time.

Their playful zest for toys

Few things delight me more than watching the Three-Cans’ delight for their toys. To see them eagerly peer into a box, the anticipation of the treasures that lie within tickling them with excitement, is pure bliss. The way they bounce around in toucan joy, purring happily when finding a prized piece, never fails to bring a smile to my face.

Their selfless habit of giving their beloved the best of the best

It literally (okay, fine – figuratively) melts my heart each time I witness or am on the receiving end of this signature toucan gesture. While most animals squirrel away their treats, protecting them tooth and nail should anyone try to part them from them, toucans are charmingly the opposite. It is a toucan courtship behavior to pass food in between their beaks, but I’m here to tell you it’s not just any food, it’s the best food – the crème de la crème. Whenever they get their beak on something they consider primo supremo – be it the flawless blueberry, the perfect-sized chunk of papaya, or even their most cherished toy – their first instinct is not to keep it for themselves, but instead, to selflessly give it away as an offering of their undying affection to the one they love. Seriously – your heart actually melted just a little bit, right?

Happy Anniversary Paco, Paz, & Pepe – here’s to many, many more happy years in our toucanlicious life together. You are the peanut butter to my jelly, the sun in my sunrise, the snazzy umbrella in my island cocktail. I love you a million, billion, zillion.

Xo my darlings! Your one and only, Toucan Lady

“We’ll be friends forever, won’t we Pooh?” asked Piglet.

“Even longer,” Pooh answered

~ A.A. Milne


Our Top Toucan Toy Stuffers

I recently posted the above picture on Facebook of a coconut stuffed with toys for the toucans to roll around and forage out. One of our toucan friends inquired further as to what we actually stuffed the coconut with. I thought that that was an excellent question and one that certainly deserved some explanation beyond my simple answer in the space-limiting comment field. It has taken us some time to uncover the perfect recipe for a tantalizing toucan toy, but now that we (almost) have it, I’d love to share our shopping secrets with anyone who may benefit – toucan toy maker or not.

As you may have seen in some of my past posts on making toys for toucans, we always start with an intriguing vessel (box, basket, bag, etc) – one that inspires the Three-Cans to want to peer in and dig out whatever treasures may be hidden within. In case you missed them, here are some past posts on toucan toys that are a pre-requisite to this course:

Choosing Toys for Toucans

Let’s Get Creative! Making Toys for Toucans…

Thinking Inside the Box

The Latest Toucan Toy Creations

The toys we use for stuffers can be anything, so long as they’re wee enough that they can be held in the Three-Can’s mighty beaks, but not too small (or with any teeny tiny parts) that they could be a choking hazard. We try to ensure that most of the toys are made with natural materials and if colored, only with safe vegetable dyes. (*Word of warning* – the moment these types of toys get wet, they bleed their color everywhere. I have found that it comes out of clothing in the wash quite easily, but I wouldn’t want to tempt fate on my furniture.)

We hide all of the toy stuffers among natural fillers, so that they take more effort to find. For filler, we use simple materials such as straw, coconut gauze, crumpled brown paper, crunchy dried leaves, or even cut up scraps from older, semi-demolished toys of yor. It often tends to look like a container of rubbish (or so I’ve been told) but it sure is a delight to the toucans, which really, is the whole point.

We select a variety of toys to be used as stuffers to keep the interest alive. That way, there is always something for them to enjoy, no matter what texture, weight, or size toy they’re in the mood to play with. Our stuffer choices generally fall into the following categories:


Wooden toys are great because they can be tossed around and make a satisfying clacking noise when being banged around between beaks. You can find wooden spools, balls, and blocks of all different shapes. It took us a few botched orders to finally find the right sizes for the Three-Cans, but now that we have, the blocks are always a favorite find and wind up in their food bowls – a sure sign that they’re considered precious in Toucanland.


These are by far the most diverse category of toys available and most of these, unlike our other toys, are in fact, bird toys. We just buy the ones in the extra-small sizes (for canaries and finches) or the parrot foot toys – that way, they are all the appropriate size to be able to be tossed around in a toucan beak. Paco and Pepe in particular will spend days working at dismantling them, braid by braid, which is an excellent boredom buster.


Wicker toys are fun because they can be pulled apart with some effort on the toucan’s part, which makes for a nice time-consuming and puzzling mental task. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes from hearts to stars to bells to balls.Their favorites are definitely the ones shaped as balls and bells – they have a bit of give and the squishy-ness seems to inspire a motivation to crunch and destroy.


Most of the plastic toys we have found that suit the Three-Cans best are those designed as bath or pool toys for babies. They are thick enough plastic where they are pretty indestructible (at least for a toucan) and float in water, which is extra fun when they make the inevitable trip into the water bowl.


Due to their affinity for the game of catch, it is not surprising that toucans love to play with balls. I have balls of all different textures from plain mini tennis balls (made for cats) to corn husk balls to soft, stuffed balls. If they make noise, all the better – their favorites are definitely the ones that squeak, jingle, and rattle.


Definitely the most beloved of all toys are the stuffed ones. We have ones shaped as mice, birds, fish, and other creatures that appeal to cats because…they are all cat toys. The Three-Cans adore cat toys and therefore, I do too – so long as they don’t have any small bells (choking hazard) or catnip (toxic). Some of ours are also puppy toys that have squeakers, which are popular with Pepe. Just be sure to monitor closely so that as they start to destroy it, you can remove the squeaker before they get to it.


The Three-Cans love to toss around wine corks and are partial to their larger cousins, the champagne corks. These are free and I am happy to utilize my champagne-drinking skills to keep them well-stocked. They also enjoy any toys made of coconut pieces, especially the fibrous discs, which are usually a hit.


We order most of our toys through Petsmart or Doctors Foster and Smith, mostly just due to our shipping requirements. You can find a wide variety of toys on many other great pet sites as well. Be sure to look beyond the bird section – I often find a good majority of our toys qualified as being designed for cats, ferrets, or even small puppy toys – I like to think of the pet stores as one big toucan section – you just gotta search out the gems.

"By day's end, the mess in my cage is proof of the FUN that I had!"


Building Our Toco Toucan Aviary

Our friend, Jamie Womach from Bird Tricks, has been doing a series of blog posts on people who have built their own outdoor bird aviaries. In the spirit of summer, I think it’s a great idea to inspire more people to grant their birds some much needed outdoor time to enjoy all the wonders that it can bring. From sunshine, fresh air, and natural activity, the outdoors is a bird’s true home at heart.

She & I decided to collaborate and share the experience of how we built our toucan aviary. I’m excited to share it with you, as I was not yet blogging at the time of construction – we hadn’t even brought the Three-Cans home yet! You can find her post by clicking the link below:

How To Construct Your Own Large Toucan Aviary



The Predicaments of Breeding Birds

As the pronounced mating season behaviors of companion birds are in full swing, you read a lot about the struggles people are experiencing on the array of bird forums across the web. From random aggression, territorial nesting, endless squawking, and other strange and sometimes obtrusive behaviors, it’s no wonder people are ready to grasp at any solution they can get their hands on. One such “solution” that I often see people exploring is the idea of finding their bird a mate. Many people pose the question, If I get a female for my hormonally-driven male, will that make him happy? Will that put an end to my mating season strife? It sounds simple enough – my bird is acting like a maniac because it wants to mate, I get him a mate, and voila! No more maniac! Ahhh, if only.

I, too, fell into the similar fairy tale thinking when Paz and Pepe began to show interest in each other through their shared wall. How perfect it would be to bond them as a pair so they can provide companionship to each other! When they became insistent about trying to be together and Paz wouldn’t stop croaking, we embraced the opportunity to socialize them and after proving their ability to cohabitate, we took down the wall in between them and expanded their aviary. It had never been our goal to breed them and I naively figured that it was unlikely that they actually would. I adopted the laissez-faire attitude of “whatever makes them happy” and we all were – for a short while.

But in reality, the so-called “simple solution” of providing your bird with a mate is actually the farthest thing from simple. To begin with, breeding birds is a highly specialized occupation that is not something easily dappled in by the average pet bird owner. There are seemingly endless issues to consider: Will you allow your birds to keep their eggs or do you plan to incubate them yourself? Do you have the right size enclosure and nest for your birds? Should you change their diet to provide the female with the nutrition she may need while laying eggs?

Seriously – you could fill a book with all of the information you need to know about breeding birds, and an even longer one for the more difficult toucans, (and I wish someone would – ahem…Jerry Jennings… ;)  ) and you still would feel overwhelmed simply due to your inexperience. Trust me – been there, doing that. And make no doubt about it, as we witnessed firsthand with Paz and Pepe (see: Our First Egg Adventure), if you put a pair of birds together during mating season, they will, in fact, mate. It’s okay, don’t be embarrassed, this came as a bit of a surprise to me too.

Don’t get me wrong, there were many positives to Paz and Pepe’s pairing. It was obvious that they both enjoyed the companionship and the shared mission of procreation. It was both adorable and an incredible education to watch them interact with one another. But there were definitely a lot of things that changed due to their transition into a breeding pair, rather than two individual pet birds, that created quite a few predicaments for us.

To be expected, they became much less interested in us and showed little desire, especially in the beginning, to participate in any training and/or bonding activity. While this is obviously not the end of the world and some would say, a worthy trade-off, it is quite a bummer when you have your two pets that have bonded with you, suddenly not wishing to engage with you as much. Most breeders will tell you to leave a breeding pair completely to themselves with no human interruptions. But ours still seemed to crave some interaction, as most people’s pets would – they weren’t raised as wild breeder birds and I think it would have been awful for them to turn them into that. But it was hard to say whether our interaction, which they seemed to desire, was making things easier or more difficult on them, from a breeding perspective. We ultimately determined that sticking to our main goal of “whatever makes them happiest” meant that we would continue our involvement in their lives, feeling it would be cruel to end all contact.

The random aggression has also been a challenge – having a baby (ok, eggs) changes everything. Pepe, our most easy-going toucan, who’s always loved to give kisses and play games suddenly had moments of surprise aggression whenever there were eggs in the nest. I say surprise because I could tell it even caught him off guard, as though he felt almost out of control of his emotions. He would suddenly go to bite me and then stop midway as though the shock of it all just hit him – I don’t know if he felt like he wanted to bite me but knew he shouldn’t or if he didn’t want to bite me but felt like he should – either way, the internal conflict was written all over his face.

By the end of Clutch #2, Paz was starting to look worse for wear. She has always been our most strikingly beautiful toucan due to her larger size and extra-fluffy plumage, but now, she looks like she’s been through the ringer. She has been going through a normal molt and her feathers aren’t coming in as fast as you’d hope for, but what has really taken the toll on her body is all of the extended time spent in the nest. Her heel pads have become swollen and cracked from all of the sitting and she has broken many of her tail and wing feathers going in, out, and about in the nest log. The lack of full feathers has hurt her mobility, making it more difficult for her to make the vertical hops and short flights.

After the progressive loss of the eggs in their 3rd clutch, things got a bit more volatile in Toucanland. Pepe was ready to try, try again, yet Paz seemed to have decided she had had enough. As Pepe continued to court her, she began to avoid him, much to his confusion. The once sweet courtship dance of feeding Paz his favorite treats and toys quickly turned into a chase, one that would occasionally become aggressive as he tried in desperation to force his “gifts” upon her. As the days went on, Pepe’s frustration grew and we found ourselves having to intervene on a few occasions to protect Paz. While Paz is typically the larger and stronger of the two, all of her broken wing feathers had given Pepe an uneven advantage, as she was no longer as agile flying about their shared enclosure. Pepe was now able to dominate her more easily and a couple of times, trapped her into a position she was unable to extricate herself from.

It was really difficult to decide upon on our best course of action. For the most part, they were going about business as usual and seemed to be getting along fine. But the sporadic events when Pepe would become almost overwhelmed with aggression towards Paz, leading us to intervene due to her inability to escape him, were worrisome for us, as we were not able to be present 24 hours a day. So, I sent out a cry for help to my expert toucan resources, hoping to gain some clarity on the best route to take.

The one thing I would suggest if you ever attempt to have a breeding pair of birds is to rally yourself up some experts. If you’re like me, you will have an endless stream of concerns and general questions that cannot be found simply on the all-knowing Google. Having multiple resources that you respect and trust is invaluable and will provide you with insight and comfort that you will not be able to find elsewhere. In this case, all of the toucan breeding experts were in agreement that Paz was being mistreated and was potentially in grave danger. The verdict was in: they needed to be separated.

Ultimately, no matter how much expert advice you can get, only you know your own birds and can truly assess the situation firsthand. For us, while we didn’t think Pepe had it in him to actually seriously maim her, we could see that Paz needed a recovery break and a chance to rebuild her resources to maintain her own safety. Otherwise, in her semi-exhausted state, she could injure herself in her escape attempts of Pepe. So, as much of a disappointment as it was to have to do, we divided the aviary once more with a temporary canvas wall.

Paz’s visible relief was immediate and she seemed to revel in the time to herself – taking long baths, playing with her toys, and eating peacefully without the pressure of having Pepe chasing after her. Pepe, on the other hand, had a difficult time with the separation. It was heartbreaking for me, as he wanted little to do with us, or anything for that matter,by way of comfort other than sit by the wall, trying to get to Paz, and croaking to express his displeasure.

It has now been almost a week since their separation and Paz has perked up, both behaviorally and in physical appearance. Pepe has settled down, but has not given up on his watch for Paz. For the first time yesterday, she expressed interest in him, trying to get to him through their shared wall, and thereby giving us more tough decisions to contemplate. While we had initially figured that we would need to keep them apart until the end of breeding season (whenever that may be) and everyone’s hormones had settled, now we’re unsure. Because they are a bonded pair, it seems cruel to keep them apart. But at the same time, it is hard to imagine Paz’s body going through the stress of another clutch, especially before she has had enough time to allow her feathers to fill in.

For now, all we can do is take things day by day, keeping a close eye on the pair and feeling out the situation. In a perfect world, it would probably be best to keep them apart for the duration of mating season and until both of them have finished molting and have all of their feathers in. But nothing is ever simple with breeding birds, nor is anything simple with toucans.

In case you missed the progression of Paz and Pepe’s budding relationship, please see:

The Love Birds: Socializing Paz & Pepe

The Love Birds Part Deux: Paz & Pepe are Shackin’ Up!

Toco Toucan Courtship Body Language

Nest Logs for Toco Toucans

The Wall That Hormones Built

Springtime Hormonal Behaviors of Toco Toucans


Paco Explores the Great Indoors

Finally having Paco acclimated to the inside of our house is a HUGE step for us. I realize that it may seem strange that it has taken almost a year for us to get to this place and that it’s actually a bit backwards from what most people do. Most people adopt their bird and house it inside their living space, then (hopefully) eventually introduce their bird to time outdoors too. But for us, the space requirements for Toco toucans in addition to the fact that we live in a tropical climate similar to their natural habitat, made our decision a no-brainer to house the Three-Cans outside from the moment we brought them home. Also, from what little I know about their history, I don’t think they have ever spent much time, if any, indoors anyway.

While they are content with their living arrangements outdoors, it has always been my goal to also have the ability to bring Paco inside with me. He has become so attached to me and I know he would gladly spend 24 hours a day by my side if given the chance. The current arrangement of me only being able to spend time with him outdoors in his aviary has been challenging at times due to the fact that I want to give him as much attention as possible, but me spending hours each day in his aviary gets tough on my human schedule.

Paco has always been incredibly fearful of the indoors. The first time he came in, I think it scared me almost as much as him. He freaked out so much, I was worried he was going to have a heart attack or pass out from the shock of it all. In hindsight, I suppose that was a bit of a dramatic concern of mine, but rather than wait to find out if my unease would be proven true, I decided to allow our relationship time to develop before we moved on to overcoming this major fear of his. Over the coming months, our bond grew deeper and I knew I was ready to try adapting him to the indoors once more. The final step in the process was getting him trained in his backpack, which was necessary for safe transportation to and from the house. Once we checked that one off of the list, all systems were go for Paco’s second foray into The Great Indoors.

To set Paco up for success, I first toucan-proofed the house by putting away anything potentially dangerous for him (ie. anything small enough to be swallowed), drew the shades partially closed to avoid window collisions, and turned off all fans. We also wanted to make sure he would have something familiar to make him feel at ease, so we built him a stand with the same almond tree perches as his outdoor areas on it to use as his “home base”. I set-up a chair near the perch tree to place his backpack on, that way he would have the ability to go in and out of it as he pleased. Also, while he’s in the house, I decided I would place his food bowls inside of the backpack to encourage him to use that as his own safe spot and to keep reinforcing the positive associations he already has with the backpack.

The first couple of times Paco came in the house, he pretty much stayed glued to his perch tree. While I was eager for him to begin moving about and exploring, I was glad to see that he was content with the stand as his base and didn’t feel the need to leave it due to feeling uncomfortable. Though soon enough, his curiosity and desire to interact with me began to outweigh his fears. Anytime something would catch his eye and I could tell he wanted to take a closer look (the mirror was first), I would offer my arm and allow him to investigate the new items from the relative safety of being attached to me, turning to give him room to fly back to his perch tree whenever he seemed to have had enough. I also used this opportunity to introduce him to the windows by pulling aside the blinds and touching his beak to the glass. My hope is that after some repetition with this, he will begin to understand that it is solid and not something he can fly through.

Just the simple act of exploring this whole new intimidating world with me is important for Paco. Because I am the only thing he feels comfortable with in this unfamiliar space, his bond with me has deepened as he is continually affirmed in his vision of me as a consistently safe (and fun!) presence in his life. When I walk him around the house to explore new rooms, his trust in me continues to grow which will also prove to be crucial when I begin to eventually traverse more spaces outdoors with him too.

One of the most exciting elements of Paco being indoors is our new opportunity for flight training. I have never been able to work on flight skills with him yet because his aviary is not sizable enough for any distance and when he comes outside, he is easily distracted and I just try to keep things safe and under control, rather than pushing him outside his comfort zone. While Paco will always willingly hop onto my arm, I have noticed that he does not feel safe flying onto it. My guess is that it is not as steady of a surface and he is nervous about a crash landing if he slips off my arm. My suspicions were proven correct the first couple of times that something spooked him and he made a panicked flight around the house and chose to land on either the floor or cling to the window blinds rather than attempt a landing on my proffered arm.

So I immediately decided on that as my first flight skill to hone in on with Paco, as I feel it is certainly the most important. In order for him to eventually spend more time outside, it is imperative that he feel comfortable flying to me, should I not be close enough to hop onto. Thankfully, this ended up being a simple enough skill to teach, mostly due to Paco’s strong motivation to be near me. Currently, as a result of heightened mating season hormones, he becomes insistent throughout the day to feed me;  I used these situations as incentive to fly. Every time he would begin purring with some treat in his mouth to bestow upon me, rather than go to him, I would offer my arm just beyond the distance where he would be able to hop. The first couple of times, his landing was understandably shaky and I would need to assist with my other hand to keep him from slipping off. But after a few more very short flights, he got the hang of landing on me and his confidence increased as I gradually extended the flight distance between me and his perch tree.

Watch Paco fly to me:

The other necessary flight skill I have been working on is teaching Paco the things in the house that are ideal to land on and the things that are not. This will give him more freedom to move about as he desires, rather than feeling the need to always be transported by my arm. At the moment, he is hesitant to fly to anything besides me, as he doesn’t seem to recognize anything perch-like. So I have started introducing chair backs to him as a perch alternative. He has yet to fly to them of his own volition, but he did make a landing on one after a short, panicked flight, whereas before, he would have simply landed on the floor. So we’re making progress there.

It’s still all so new to us, but with each time Paco comes in, the more comfortable he becomes. I am always left with a high after times when he is indoors due to the connection between us that has been forged and fresh breakthroughs to celebrate. It is obvious how much he enjoys it too, as he is perpetually eager to hop in his backpack whenever I go to pick him up from his aviary for some quality time.


Celebrating the Culmination of Efforts

Just the other day, while sitting in the kitchen watching Paco bounce around delightedly on his perch tree, a big smile slowly spread across my face as I was struck by the realization that this is everything I have been working towards. Paco is inside and not just inside, but even more importantly, he’s not freaking out and is instead, actually enjoying himself. Every training session, every conscious effort that I have made to shape my interactions positively with him over this past year has led us to this moment here. And I couldn’t be more joyful or more proud.

There are of course moments when you get down on yourself, feeling like you’re not making as much headway with your bird as you anticipated. It’s usually after you’ve just watched a You Tube video of some professional trainers’ seemingly effortless ability to cue a behavior in a matter of minutes or even some person like yourself enjoying a loving, connected moment with their clearly well-socialized bird. There are times when your training sessions are less than stellar, times when your bird behaves in ways that make you feel like you’ve experienced a major setback, and even times when you get bored (yes, occasionally) playing their favorite game with them for the 100th time.

But then there are times when it all clicks together – when you see how all of that time and energy you have dedicated to your bird has been completely and totally worth it. Training takes an incredible amount of patience but the good news is that it all pays off and the benefits to both you and your bird are immeasurable.

You can watch every training DVD that money can buy but only when you apply what you have learned do you reap the reward. It is not just one magical step that solves all of your issues, but rather all of the little steps coming together. Seemingly small things such as always paying attention to what behaviors you’re rewarding and therefore, encouraging, in each interaction with your bird adds up huge. Restraining yourself when, in your impatience for results, you feel the desire to push your bird too far, too fast. Learning what motivates your bird and recognizing when he’s at his best (and worst) is a skill that takes you far. And most importantly, remembering that your bird is a bird and shouldn’t be held to human standards of time – your relationship comes first, all else is secondary.

The time I have committed to Paco, Paz, and Pepe is all starting to pay off. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed the journey but I knew they wouldn’t be able to live their happiest life until I was able to train them to this point. Paz and Pepe, now a bonded pair and sharing one enclosure, seem contented to have the companionship they have never experienced before and the ability to fulfill their need to mate. Paco coming indoors is a big step in him being able to spend even more time with me and enjoy the togetherness that he so desires. It also allows him more space to explore and foster his insatiable curiosity. There is still much more for us to work on to advance to the next level in our relationship and their socialization, but what we are enjoying now is marked progress for us and definitely something to drink to (papaya juice only, of course ;)  ).

I would like to express my appreciation to the Bird Tricks training program for providing the know-how and to Jamie Womach for all of her support and encouragement. I feel so fortunate to have found their company in those early days of searching for a way to get Paco to stop attacking me. Their training program is so accessible, fun, and easy to apply, truly anyone can do it if they put their energy into it.

Now it’s time for new goals to set my sights on to further my bond and continue to enrich the lives of the Three-Cans. But this time there will be one big difference – I will no longer have doubts that I am reaching too high or that I’m lacking as a trainer. This time I will be confident in my future success, in whatever form it may take. Whether it be with your own birds or other aspects of your life, I think it’s important that we all take time to recognize and celebrate those moments when all of our hard work has come to fruition and we can see that it was well worth the sacrifice and striving it took to achieve. I have found that life with birds can be draining and difficult, or it can be the best, most satisfying times of your life – it’s all what you make of it and for me, training is what makes all the difference.