One of the highlights of my trip to South America, was Iguassu Falls. This is one of our world’s most spectacular sites. It is located on the borders of Brazil and Argentina and is near Paraguay too. Fortunately, the falls are located in a large park system that protects the beauty of the falls, as well as, the surrounding ecosystem. The area is home to a surprising number of plant species and animals. We saw cavies nibbling grass around the visitor’s center, deer grazing along the roadways and coati mundi looking for handouts from the tourists. But what struck me most from an animal perspective was seeing toucans in their natural home. Before going to Iguassu Falls, I had only seen toucans in captivity. Watching them fly with their characteristic wing flaps then glide, was breathtaking. Especially, when you look at the size of the beak they carry.
Here is a closeup of one species of toucan, the Toco Toucan, I met at Parque de Aves. Toco’s are omnivores. Their diets consist mainly of fruit and insects plus the occasional egg, lizard or even young birds. While listening to NPR on my way to work last week, they quoted a study from the journal Science. I learned that big-mouthed toucans play a vital role in preserving the rainforest. The jucara palm tree is one of the foundational plants in the rainforest eco- system. Toucans use their beaks to crack the large seeds and then disperse them through their droppings. As the number of these big-mouthed toucans decreased, the palm started producing smaller seeds that could be eaten by smaller birds. Unfortunately, these smaller seeds aren’t as hearty as the larger ones leading to a reduction in the number of jucara palms and accelerating deforestation.
More information, including an audio recording of these noisy birds, is available at http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/toucan/.
-Joyce, Christopher. Big-Mouthed Toucans Key to Forest Evolution, NPR, Morning Edition,5/31/2013.