What to Feed Your Pet Toucan and Other Iron-Sensitive Birds

Known for their beautiful, vibrant feathers and exceptionally large beaks, birds like toucans, aracaris and toucanets make colorful and entertaining animal companions. However, it can be a challenge to keep these beautiful birds happy and healthy without the right diet.

“Toucans, aracaris and toucanets are predisposed to hemosiderosis and hemochromatosis – disorders that cause the body to absorb too much iron from the diet,” says Storm Heaven, a biologist for Emerald Forest Bird Gardens and a toucan breeder. “Making the right diet choices is critical for the happiness and healthiness of these birds.”

What’s at stake and how can you find the right diet for your softbill bird? Find out.

Iron-sensitive birds need special feed 

“Hemosiderosis and hemochromatosis are terms used to describe an overload of iron in organs,” says Heaven. “Some diets contain too much iron, and the excess iron the birds consume is deposited in high levels in the liver and other organs in the body.”

These iron deposits happen over time. Some studies show hemosiderosis and hemochromatosis can be reversed with chelation therapy, however, reversal isn’t always possible.

“Prevention is the best action,” says Heaven. “Birds at risk for these disorders must be fed a low-iron diet, with an iron content of 125ppm or less.”

Mazuri® Softbill Diet for Iron-Sensitive Birds is a pelleted feed that can be fed daily to iron-sensitive birds. This feed uses natural-colored pellets, and every batch is analyzed for iron concentration so you can be sure this diet always meets the needs of your beautiful bird.

Build out a wide, varied diet

When toucans, aracaris and toucanets live in the wild, their diets consist of fruit, nectar, buds, flowers, leaves, small insects, snails and slugs.

“Pet toucans raised in captivity require a wide and varied diet that is not too high in sugar,” says Heaven. “In addition to a pelleted feed, your pet toucan needs fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables.”

The best fruits to feed a toucan, aracari or toucanet are wild ficus and palm fruits, but these fruits are difficult to find. The next best fruits are papaya, blueberries and bananas. Use these fruits to make a good base meal and mix in seasonal fruits and vegetables, like figs, guava, watermelon, cantaloupe, pears, dragon fruit, acai, green beans, carrots and peas.

“Edible flowers, quail eggs and dried crickets can be fed as occasional treats in small amounts,” says Heaven. “And always avoid fruits high in citric acid, like tomatoes, pineapple, lemons, oranges and grapefruit. These fruits can amplify uptake of iron in your bird’s body, which you don’t want.”

Feeding instructions for iron-sensitive birds 

Follow these feeding instructions for your toucan, aracari or toucanet:

  • Make pellets available throughout the day.

  • Feed fresh fruit and vegetables twice a day, once in the morning and again in the afternoon.

  • Remove any uneaten fruit and vegetables each day so they do not spoil.

  • Make sure fresh fruit and vegetables are ripe and soft.

  • Cut fruits and vegetables into small cubes for easy digestion.

In the wild, birds forage for their food. Consider use of a foraging feeder which stimulates natural feeding and hunting behaviors. Foraging feeders are a great way to give treats to your bird, like dried or live crickets.
“When kept on the right diet – a diet consisting of low-iron pellets and fresh fruit and vegetables – and provided with adequate sunlight, flight time and an enriching enclosure, your iron-sensitive bird can thrive and be a great companion,” says Heaven.

Have questions about feeding your toucan, aracari, toucanet or other iron-sensitive birds? Ask our team of nutritionists for advice.

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