Emerald Toucanet

Aulacorhynchus prasinus

Last updated: December 7, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Vlad Turchenko/Shutterstock.com

Emerald Toucanets spend their lives high in the canopy of tall forests, almost never coming to the ground!

Emerald Toucanet Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Piciformes
Family
Ramphastidae
Genus
Aulacorhynchus
Scientific Name
Aulacorhynchus prasinus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Emerald Toucanet Conservation Status

Emerald Toucanet Locations

Emerald Toucanet Locations

Emerald Toucanet Facts

Prey
Insects and lizards
Main Prey
Insects
Name Of Young
Chicks
Group Behavior
  • Pair
  • Flocks
Fun Fact
Emerald Toucanets spend their lives high in the canopy of tall forests, almost never coming to the ground!
Biggest Threat
Habitat degradation and illegal trade
Most Distinctive Feature
Bright green feathers and long, heavy bill
Distinctive Feature
Black eye ring and black feathers around eye; White or yellowish-white feathers around chin; No bright white marking at base of bill; No blue or violet plumage around bill or throat
Incubation Period
14 to 16 days
Age Of Fledgling
43 days
Habitat
Canopy of trees in cloud forest, rainforest, or forested areas in shrublands and wetlands, generally at elevations from 2,000 to 10,000 feet
Predators
Snakes, possibly other climbing nest predators
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
Favorite Food
Fruit
Common Name
Emerald Toucanet
Number Of Species
1
Location
Southeastern Mexico and Central America, including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador
Average Clutch Size
3
Group
Flock
Nesting Location
High in trees in natural cavities or abandoned woodpecker nests

Emerald Toucanet Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Green
Skin Type
Feathers
Lifespan
12 to 14 years
Weight
4.2 to 8.1 ounces
Length
12 to 14 inches
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Emerald Toucanets spend their lives high in the canopy of tall forests, almost never coming to the ground!

Type “Emerald Toucanet” or even the scientific name, “Aulacorhynchus prasinus” in a search engine and you are likely to find more pictures of other species than the one you are looking for. That is because most of the small green toucans living in Mexico, Central America and parts of South America were lumped together under that one name for well over 150 years. The differences in morphology, mostly having to do with the color patterns on or around the birds’ bills, were not thoroughly explored until recent years.

Since the early 2000s, there has been rapid and dynamic change in the taxonomy of the Aulacorhynchus genus, with many birds reclassified as unique species, or as subspecies of a different species than the Emerald Toucanet. Today, there are four recognized subspecies of A. prasinus, none of which have blue throats, orange eye rings, or crisp white markings at the base of their bills.

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With the reclassification of so many former subspecies into their own taxa, the range of the Emerald Toucanet has changed significantly as well. The information on A. prasinus and its four current subspecies is correct as of this writing, but as with any dynamically evolving genus, things are subject to change.

Incredible Emerald Toucanet Facts

  • Emerald Toucanets are mostly green, and their specific epithet, prasinus, means leek green.
  • These birds live their whole lives in the canopy of the forest, rarely coming to the ground.
  • The courting ritual of these toucanets involves males giving the females an offering of fruit.
  • Emerald Toucanets eat mostly fruit, but also hunt for insects and lizards high in trees.
  • Natural cavities in trees and abandoned woodpecker holes are preferred nest sites.
  • These birds disperse seeds for dozens of different plant and tree species.

Where to Find Emerald Toucanets

Emerald Toucanets live in the mountainous regions of southeastern Mexico and parts of Central America, including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize. These birds usually make their home in the cloud forest, a dense, humid forest found at upper elevations. They may also be found in other woodlands or rainforests, or in wooded areas of shrublands and wetlands, generally from elevations of 2,000 to 10,000 feet. They also sometimes inhabit plantations.

Emerald Toucanet Nests

These birds spend the majority of their time in the canopy of the forests where they live. They build their nests high in trees, in natural cavities or in abandoned woodpecker nests. Their nests may be anywhere from around 7 feet off the ground to 90 feet up in the trees. Emerald Toucanets do little to modify their nests other than perhaps expanding the opening so they can get in and out easily. They clean out the nest cavity, but do not line it with soft materials as many other birds do.

Scientific Name

The Emerald Toucanet, Aulacorhynchus prasinus, was first described by John Gould in 1834. He originally placed the bird in the Pteroglossus genus, but it was later reassigned to the Aulacorhynchus genus, which includes several species of toucanets. The word aulacorhynchus derives from Greek roots and means furrowed or grooved beak. The word prasinus comes from Latin and means leek green, which is descriptive of the green plumage common to Emerald Toucanets and related species.

This species is a member of the Ramphastidae family, which includes toucans, toucanets, barbets and aracaris. The Aulacorhynchus genus includes several species, some of which were listed as subspecies of the Emerald Toucanet as recently as 2016. The Blue-throated Toucanet, (A. caeruleogularis), Wagler’s Toucanet (A. wagleri), the White-throated Toucanet (A. albivitta), and the Black-throated Toucanet (A. atrogularis) are some examples of birds that were only recently reassigned as their own species.

Appearance

Because the taxonomy of the Aulacorhynchus genus is changing so rapidly, it can be difficult to differentiate the Emerald Toucanet from newly assigned species that were previously considered to be subspecies. Many of the photographs online and in publications attributed as Emerald Toucanets are actually Blue-throated Toucanets, White-throated Toucanets or other species. They are all similar in size and overall color, with the main differences being the feathers around their bills and the colors of the bills themselves.

Emerald Toucanets are, of course, bright green. They have a reddish color on their vent and the tip of their tail, and their tail feathers are dark underneath. Their bill is long and thick, like other toucans, and is primarily black with yellow markings. They have black eyes with a black eye ring and surrounding plumage, with white or yellowish-white feathers along the chin.  

Males and females both share this coloration, with the only noticeable difference being in size. Males have bills that can be 20 percent longer than females. These birds can grow to a length of 12 to 14 inches. They can weigh between 4.2 and 8.1 ounces.

Emerald Toucanet, Aulacorhynchus prasimus, in a nest in Tikal, Guatemala
Emerald Toucanet, Aulacorhynchus prasimus, in a nest in Tikal, Guatemala

©Thorsten Spoerlein/Shutterstock.com

Beware of Old Photos

Careful consideration must be given to photographs labeled as Emerald Toucanets, or even as Aulacorhynchus prasinus, due to the rapidly shifting taxonomy within this genus. Many of the photos or illustrations previously associated with this species are actually pictures of former subspecies that are now reclassified. For instance, similar birds with distinct white lines at the base of the beak and blue plumage around the throat are most likely A. caeruleogularis, Blue-throated Toucanets. Meanwhile, green toucanets with prominent white markings at the base of the beak along with orange eye rings and light-colored throats are likely variations of A. albivitta, or White-throated Toucanets.

Behavior

Emerald Toucanets are diurnal birds that spend most of their time in the canopy of humid forests. They do not migrate, other than moving higher and lower in elevation. This movement is due partly to temperature and food availability, but is mostly relative to the moisture in the air.

They cover large territories as they forage for food. During their breeding season, they form pairs. The rest of the year they tend to live in small flocks of about three to ten birds.

In captivity, Emerald Toucanets are known to be highly aggressive and territorial. Experts recommend that they be housed separately from other birds, to avoid fighting and injuries. In the wild, they can sometimes be found around where people work and live, including on plantations. Because they tend to eat fruits and seeds, including coffee beans, they are sometimes considered pests.

Diet

Emerald Toucanets are omnivores. Fruits are the mainstay of their diet. They eat berries, and in the wet season they consume larger fruits. Some of the fruits that they consume contain tough seeds and are too difficult to digest when first eaten. The birds will often regurgitate these fruits and eat them again, as many times as it takes to dislodge the seeds. They then either swallow the seeds and pass them with their feces or simply spit them out.

The seeds that pass through the birds’ digestive systems have a greater chance of germinating than those that fall straight to the ground in their fruit. The toucanets actually perform a valuable function by dispersing seeds from dozens of different plant species all over their territory.

Emerald Toucanets also hunt for prey, including lizards and insects, in the canopy of the trees. These birds are nest predators. They will eat both eggs and nestlings from other nests.

Reproduction

The life cycle of Emerald Toucanets may begin with an offering of fruit. A male bird offers fruit to a female, and if she accepts copulation may soon occur. He then prepares a nest, clearing debris from a natural cavity in a tree or an abandoned woodpecker hole. He might have to enlarge the opening a bit, just enough that he and his mate can get in and out. The toucanets may engage in bill fencing. This involves whacking each other with their large beaks, before the female lays her eggs in the nest.

Emerald Toucanets lay three to four eggs in their nest. Both the males and females incubate the eggs for 14 to 16 days. The hatchlings emerge naked, blind and helpless. They don’t have their full plumage until they are about 35 days old. The parents care for them for six weeks, until they fledge at about 43 days. They then continue to feed them for several more weeks.  

Little is known about how long it takes Emerald Toucanets to reach sexual maturity. They do, however, grow slowly like most other toucans. It might take more than two years before they begin to seek mates of their own.   

Predators & Threats

Because Emerald Toucanets rarely go to the ground, adult birds are at relatively low risk from predators. Their eggs and nestlings, however, are eaten by snakes and possibly other nest predators that happen to be adept climbers.  

Human activity is the greater threat to these birds. Emerald Toucanets typically live in the canopies of tall trees. Unfortunately, as these are cut down for lumber or to make way for agriculture, their habitat is disrupted. The birds also fall victim to illegal trading. They are captured in the wild and sold internationally. Too often their owners are not trained in how to properly care for these birds, and they suffer from preventable disease.

Lifespan of the Emerald Toucanet

In the wild, Emerald Toucanets can live from 12 to 14 years, or maybe more. In captivity, they tend to die sooner, sometimes simply because they are not given a proper diet.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists Emerald Toucanets as a species of least concern. However, their numbers are unknown and thought to be in decline. Their range is large, and multiple conservation sites have been identified. Conservation efforts to protect other species within their range may benefit them as well.

A Disease in Common with Humans

Emerald Toucanets are susceptible to a disease called hemochromatosis. The disorder that causes the birds to store far too much iron and can cause sickness and even death. Humans can suffer from this disorder as well. Handlers must carefully manage the diets of these birds in captivity to avoid causing them harm.  

Similar Animals

  • Keel-Billed Toucan – This gorgeous bird has a rainbow-colored bill with a bright yellow head and neck.
  • Hyacinth Macaw – This stunning blue bird is the largest of the flying parrots.
  • Amazon Parrot – This bird has green feathers similar to the Emerald Toucanet, but they could not be confused for one another thanks to their distinctive bills.

View all 114 animals that start with E

About the Author

Tavia discovered she had a gift for teaching when she was 21 years old. Having recently changed her major from engineering to wildlife biology, she was thrilled to take on an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She began her work excited about going into the field and saving endangered species, but soon realized she could make the biggest difference by helping to educate young people about animals, the environment and science in general. Tavia loves all animals, especially the ones that need our help the most. Over the years, she has cared for many pets, including snakes, toads, a tarantula, tree frogs, a salamander, hissing cockroaches, mice, donkeys, calves, horses, and a number of cats and dogs, but dogs are definitely her favorite! She believes that together, we can make our world a better place.

Emerald Toucanet FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What does the Emerald Toucanet look like?

Emerald Toucanets are bright green. They have a reddish color on their vent and the tip of their tail, and their tail feathers are dark underneath. Their bill is long and thick, like other toucans, and is primarily black with yellow markings. They have black eyes with a black eye ring and surrounding plumage, with white or yellowish-white feathers along the chin. They can be differentiated from other similar species by the colors around their bills. They do not have blue throats like the Blue-throated Toucanet or bright white markings on the base of the bill and orange eye rings like the White-throated Toucanet.

How big is the Emerald Toucanet?

Emerald Toucanets can grow to a length of 12 to 14 inches, and they can weigh between 4.2 and 8.1 ounces. Males and females are similar in appearance but differ in size. Males have bills that can be 20 percent longer than females.

How many varieties of Emerald Toucanets exist?

There are currently four subspecies of Aulacorhynchus prasinus, or Emerald Toucanets. Other subspecies were reassigned as recently as 2016. The current subspecies include A. p. prasinus, A. p. virescens, A. p. volcanius, and A. p. warneri, which was first described in 2000.

What makes the Emerald Toucanet special?

Emerald Toucanets spend most of their lives high in the canopy of tall forests, hardly ever coming to the ground.

Where do Emerald Toucanets live?

Emerald Toucanets live in the mountainous regions of southeastern Mexico and parts of Central America, including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Belize. These birds usually make their home in the cloud forest, a dense, humid forest found at upper elevations. They may also be found in other woodlands or rainforests, or in wooded areas of shrublands and wetlands, generally from elevations of 2,000 to 10,000 feet. They also sometimes inhabit plantations.

Do Emerald Toucanets migrate?

Emerald Toucanets have a large territory, but they do not migrate, save for moving up and down to different elevations.

What do Emerald Toucanets eat?

Emerald Toucanets mostly eat fruit. They also eat a variety of insects and lizards that they hunt in the canopy of the forest, as well as eggs and nestlings of other birds.

How many eggs does the Emerald Toucanet lay?

Emerald Toucanets usually lay 3 to 4 eggs in their nests, which are made in natural cavities or abandoned woodpecker nests high in the trees.

When do Emerald Toucanets leave the nest?

Emerald Toucanets do not leave the nest until they are about six weeks old. Their incubation period is 12 to 14 days, after which they hatch naked and blind. It takes them about 35 days to get their full plumage, and they fledge at about 43 days.

How long do Emerald Toucanets live?

Emerald Toucanets live 12 to 14 years in the wild. They seem to live shorter lives in captivity, possibly because they lack experienced care and a proper diet.

Are Emerald Toucanets rare?

The number of Emerald Toucanets in the wild is unknown, but thought to be decreasing. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the bird as a species of least concern, due in part to its large range.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. IOC World Bird List, Available here: https://www.worldbirdnames.org/new/bow/jacamars/
  2. The Wilson Bulletin, Vol 56, No 2, Available here: https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/wilson/v056n02/p0065-p0076.pdf
  3. Julie Craves, Available here: https://www.coffeehabitat.com/2009/03/know-your-coffee-birds-emerald-toucanet/
  4. The Wilson Bulletin, Vol. 98, No. 4, Available here: https://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/wilson/v098n04/p0585-p0588.pdf
  5. IUCN Red List, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22726170/94913421#assessment-information

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