Curious about toucans as pets? Find yourself wishing you could own one of your own? You’re not alone.
The more people see toucans in the media – whether they be real toucans or simply designs of toucans printed on clothing and accessories – the more people are left dreaming of getting a toucan as their next potential pet.
I receive many messages from people asking for my advice on getting a toucan as a pet. Because of the increasing frequency with which I receive these requests, I decided to designate this page as the “One Stop Shop” where I can dispense all the advice I have to give, free for the taking. My main advice? Here it is:
I DO NOT RECOMMEND TOUCANS AS PETS.
So why don’t I think you should have a toucan? Is it because I’m a selfish killjoy who thinks I’m the only special snowflake who should get to enjoy the companionship of a toucan? Or is it because I’m some crazy animal rights activist who thinks all people are inherently evil and shouldn’t have pets at all?
It’s neither, actually.
Here’s the real deal – we adopted our three Toco toucans out of a not-so-great situation. We had no idea what to expect (there’s little information on the subject available anywhere) and were under the impression that keeping toucans would be similar to keeping parrots. It’s not. Not even close. There is so much we wish we would have known before we chose to adopt our Three-Cans. And as much as we love them and are committed to their care, I want to admit that had we had all of the information ahead of time, I can tell you honestly that we would not have chosen to adopt our three toucans.
That’s why I’m writing this. Because I feel like everyone deserves the facts. Not some sales pitch from an eager breeder, but honest words from a toucan owner who is living it. I wrote my first article on the topic, So You Think You Want a Toucan, awhile back but I felt like it needed expanding on due to the broad range of questions I receive.
I often find myself wishing in retrospect that there had been a site like this one for me to find before we embarked on the toucan lifestyle. Ensuring our Three-Cans have the proper care they deserve has taken over our lives in ways we never expected.
Yes, there are definitely positive aspects (which I tend to feature more often on our social media sites), but the tradeoffs are significant and worth noting:
- We are no longer able to embrace our spontaneity. No more impromptu weekend getaways or even pop-up happy hours with friends. We have to be home at specific times to care for our birds, regardless of what’s going on in The Human World. Any overnight trips require extremely advanced planning and we still – after 4 years – do not have a reliable toucan-sitter nearby that we can consistently count on. And we’re even willing to pay well for it!
- We no longer have full days off together as a couple; one of us always has to shape their day around bird care. Even if we head out together, one – if not both – of us has to be home early for the birds.
- Our life can get quite monotonous, as their needs do not change from day to day, they remain a constant. Chopping fruit, cleaning aviaries, making toys – it all happens every single day.
- We have had to move several times because of their space requirements and safety.
- Tens of thousands of our dollars (yes, no exaggeration – TENS of THOUSANDS) have been spent on proper housing, care, diet, enrichment, vets, etc.
- My days are ruled by their schedule. Even if I mix things up a little, I still have to be home at least three times throughout the day to feed them, clean for them, and provide enrichment for them. My work, not to mention my social life, always has to take the back-burner which is frustrating, to say the least.
Though this may sound like a litany of petty complaints, I encourage you if you’re seriously considering adopting a toucan to reflect on these deeply, as they relate to your own life. Think of how your life runs currently. Think of the things you love to do. Think of how much time you spend away from your house. Think of chores you hate to do. When things are new, they’re naturally exciting and we’re willing to make more sacrifices for them. We humans thrive off of novelty and will often overestimate our interest in things when they seem fresh. Then, after months (years for the strong-willed), when the newness wears off, we’re left with the ramifications of our choices, too often feeling trapped by them. Toucans can live for decades. For the next few decades, how do you want to spend your life? Can you picture yourself cleaning aviaries and chopping papaya every single day for 20+ years?
BUT ISN’T THIS ALL A LITTLE TOO DRAMATIC? AREN’T TOUCANS SO MUCH FUN TOO?
I realize this “no toucans as pets” opinion upsets people sometimes. They see pictures/videos of me enjoying time with my adorable toucans and think, I’m sure it’s sort of hard work, but it’s also so much fun! Totally worth it.
I also imagine some of you reading this are thinking, This girl is just some high-maintenance crazy bird lady. That’s not how I keep my pets. I’d be more chill with a toucan. They don’t need all this fuss like she’s saying.
And yes, I will admit that especially in the beginning, out of a perfectionist desire to provide my Three-Cans with The Best Life EVER, I was a bit high-maintenance about their care. However, as the years have gone by, I have worked to take some of the pressure off myself (before I ended up in the looney bin), but it doesn’t change the fact that there are still a lot of basic requirements to ethically care for a toucan that simply cannot be compromised. If you slack in your diet, you are in for expensive and potentially devastating health problems down the line. And if you slack in your enrichment and training, you are in for a world of behavioral issues that you will not be able to ignore.
Perhaps you have a parrot and are thinking, I know, I know. That’s exactly like having a parrot. I’m already a bird person (in the best possible way!) and would have no problem taking on a toucan.
I have published an interview with two experienced bird keepers (of softbills and hookbills), discussing the similarities and differences between parrots and toucans called, Toucans vs Parrots as Pets: A Candid Interview, that might be of interest to you.
In the meantime, here are just a couple of ways that having a toucan is different from having a parrot:
- Toucans have a much more limited diet. They must be served fresh fruit twice daily, which isn’t really possible to prepare in advance like “chop” or “mash” that helps in parrot diet prep.
- Toucans eat specific, exotic fruits that can be expensive and hard to find.
- Toucans are much more energetic birds. They should not have their wings clipped, as they need the ability to fly. They will not sit calmly on a perch while you go about your business. They will get into everything.
- Toucans need WAY more space than a parrot of equal size.
- Toucans can be much more difficult to manage in a house with multiple people/pets and are challenging to train and socialize. They are fast, agile flyers and pretty fearless to boot – they will not hesitate to attack whenever they feel uneasy.
KEEP IN MIND, YOUR HOME IS NOT A ZOO
When people think of pets, they tend to think of animals that can be a part of the family and can complement their lifestyle – can fit into their lifestyle. Dogs and cats have been domesticated for this purpose. But the difference with toucans is that they will not just fit into your life. You must fit into theirs. Having a toucan will take over your life. This is not an exaggeration. I know this from personal experience. And I know many other toucan owners out there who can attest to this fact as well. I, as well as most toucan owners who I’ve ever spoken to, regret some of the ways having toucans has changed their lifestyle.
Exotic animals like these belong in zoos, if in captivity at all, in my opinion. In good zoos, they are provided with environments that can come close to mimicking their natural habitats rather than cages in a human household setting. In zoos, they can have multiple trained caregivers to meet their demanding needs. In zoos, they can hopefully be placed with a mate and other members of their own species, allowed to live out their lives as animals without the stress of having to try and adapt to the human world. It is unreasonable for people with regular homes, jobs, families, and lives to be expected to commit to a job it takes multiple paid, professional keepers to do in a zoo setting.
Your home can also be dangerous to a toucan in so many simple, hard to predict ways. Your human cleanliness standards will not be shared by your toucan. Your human schedule will not be respected by your toucan. Your home is nothing like a toucan’s natural habitat.
AND IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT HOW IT CHANGES YOUR LIFE – PLEASE CONSIDER THE WELFARE OF THE BIRDS
Having toucans has also made me a firm believer that these amazing creatures should not be kept as pets in captivity because they are such amazing creatures. They are highly energetic, intelligent animals who deserve the life they were created for. Trying to fit them into our human world isn’t fair. And just because you buy one that’s been captive bred does not make the animal any less wild at heart. Toucans are not a domesticated animal. I think all empathetic human beings eventually come to the conclusion that putting birds – or any animals, for that matter – in cages is wrong, archaic, and unnatural.
I have written more about my thoughts on this in my article, The #1 Reason I Don’t Think Toucans Should Be Kept as Pets (coming soon!).
I know people see my aviaries, which are located outdoors year round on the beautiful Caribbean island where we live, and think it looks perfect for my Three-Cans, like you couldn’t ask for anything better. Our aviaries are the largest ones you can buy for your home and yet – they’re still cages. The Three-Cans may have spectacular views, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are kept behind bars and do not have the ability to live as they choose. I choose what they eat, what they play with, how they spend their time. And I’ll be honest – even though I’m delivering them their expensive meals on a tray, it doesn’t make me feel less like a jailer somedays. It makes me so sad to watch them watch the wild birds in our yard flying free, exploring at their own will, and living their own lives according to their own agenda. Words cannot express how much this hurts my heart to witness on a daily basis. I didn’t feel this way before owning birds and never thought it would effect me so deeply. But it has, and from speaking with other toucan owners, I am not alone in this sentiment.
I know a lot of people out there believe that life in captivity for birds is also full of benefits that they wouldn’t get in the wild and that they make up for the loss of freedom – safety, a consistent supply of food/water, veterinary care, and loving caregivers, to name a few. But as a loving caregiver who provides all those things and more, I have seen from personal experience that what we humans have to offer in a controlled setting cannot even come close to comparing to freedom. I believe now more than ever that we shouldn’t seek to possess nature; we’re hurting our natural world and the animals in it by seeking to do so. Toucans possess incredible intelligence and emotional depth. I don’t believe that a life in a household setting is the life they were created to live.
I ALSO CONSISTENTLY SEE TOUCANS AS PETS FAIL IN A VARIETY OF HOMES
In the short time that I have been a part of the “toucan world” so to speak, I have seen several examples of why, even when people are trying their very best, toucans as pets don’t work out. A couple examples for you:
Pet Toucan Fail #1
An educated, well-off adult couple, after much research, set out to purchase a toucan as their sole pet. Due largely to their financial capacity, they are convinced by a breeder to “go big” and get a large toucan, even though they did not have the space or climate suitable for housing a toucan in an outdoor aviary. They are told that a large indoor cage, the size widely considered acceptable for a macaw, would be appropriate for their toucan to be housed in most of the time, with periods of time out of the cage, free-flying in their house. They do everything they can to provide their toucan with the best care, though they quickly realize that the macaw cage is way too tiny for their large, energetic toucan and feel intensely guilty for the times it is forced to be caged due to their other commitments. When the toucan is out of the cage, particularly during mating season, it has a tendency to get very aggressive and relentlessly attack the owners and those who visit their home. I worked with them to help with her training, which improved things slightly, but because the toucan had to be out free-roaming the house for so much of the time due to its inappropriately-sized cage, it was impossible to solve all their issues. If you don’t set yourself up for success first with a suitable environment, training is much much more challenging. Desperate, they eventually had to temporarily re-home their toucan during mating season to a friend’s outdoor aviary which eventually led to the toucan’s untimely death. The owners were devastated, as they had truly done everything in their power and sacrificed so much to provide their toucan with a great life. Though in the end, it wasn’t their fault. They were unfortunately set up for failure from the start with a bird that was not suited for their home and lifestyle.
Pet Toucan Fail #2
A nice, single woman contacted me to discuss her upcoming adoption of a pair of Toco toucans as pets. Though I tried to provide her with a realistic picture of the challenges of keeping Tocos and why it might not be ideal for her scenario (particularly because she lives in the Middle East where an outdoor aviary would never be possible due to the heat), she had the means and had her heart set on Tocos. I also tried to warn her that keeping a pair of birds and expecting them to interact with you, the human, in pet-like ways was an expectation that would likely not be met. When you have a breeding pair of birds, they will naturally be more focused on each other and your human interference will create confusion, conflict in their relationship, and potential behavioral problems. She was insistent that she could handle all of it and got the pair of Toco toucans. Within weeks of bringing them home, the male was attacking her and she was unable to handle him or even get near the female, who was “sweeter” in her eyes, and she was already looking to re-home the male and get another male who would surely be “nicer”.
Pet Toucan Fail #3
A loving couple has a male aracari as a pet. He, like many toucans, unfortunately has a preoccupation with attacking feet. Though they tried their best to train him not to do this, because he was so obsessive about being on the floor and trying to attack their toes, he eventually was tripped over and accidentally killed by one of them while trying to escape his attacks.
These are just a couple examples, there are plenty more. And yes, there are also examples of toucans working out positively for some people as pets, though the cases are unfortunately more rare. Thankfully, toucans are not yet that popular of a pet to have as many heart-breaking stories such as these as the countless parrots in rescues do. Because parrots are so challenging to be kept as pets, rescue centers cannot keep up and are overflowing with parrots who need homes. I have written this not only for the benefit of potential owners as a cautionary tale so they know realistically what they’re getting into, but also in the hopes that we never see toucans grow to the same popularity and end up overwhelming rescue centers as well.
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Ultimately, it is up to you. A toucan may or may not be the right pet for you. There are some people out there who do find it to be a positive choice for them. It is dependent on your lifestyle, your home, and your choice of what you’d like to realistically commit to for the long haul. I am not here to criticize anyone, I just want to provide a balanced perspective. I post so many pictures and videos showcasing the charming aspects of toucan ownership that I feel it is also my responsibility to share the drawbacks as well.
I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts and for carefully considering what it truly means to keep a toucan as a pet and whether or not it is right for you.
If you have any questions regarding toucans as pets that I have not covered here, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page. If you can’t find the answer there, you’re welcome to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org .