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Wonderfully Wild Wednesday: Toucan vs. hornbill

Posted by: Caileigh Robertson, Communications

Although toucans and hornbills look very similar, they are from two completely different families of birds. This is a great example of what is called convergent evolution. Toucans and hornbills are beautiful, fascinating creatures and throughout time, they have both adapted similarly to survive in similar ecological niches, despite the great geographical divide between them. Toucans reside in Central and South America, while hornbills are found only in Africa and Asia.

Toucan (left) and hornbill (right) look similar though they are unrelated. Photos by Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo.

They both play the role of forest omnivore, feeding on fruits, insects and small creatures, including bird eggs, lizards and young mice. Their similar bills come in handy when foraging for food. Both groups of birds nest in cavities. These large bills also play a part in protecting eggs and nestlings from potential predators.

So how do you tell them apart at a glance? Hornbills are easy to differentiate due to noticeable casques, the ridged structure on the bill. Researchers say this feature gives hornbills the ability to amplify their vocalizations in the rain forest.


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