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toucan (tōkănˈ, tōˈkän) [key], perching bird of the New World tropics, related to the woodpeckers. Toucans vary in size from the jay-sized toucanets to the 24-in. (62-cm) tocos of the Amazon basin. They are notable for their enormous, often brightly colored, canoe-shaped bills, which consist of a lightweight porous substance covered by a horny shell with serrated edges. This bill is well adapted to cutting up the fruits and berries that form their diet. Most brilliantly plumaged are the aracaris and hill toucans of the mountain forests of South America. Toucans are gregarious and, like the woodpeckers, nest in cavities. Toucans are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Piciformes, family Rhamphastidae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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