One of my philosophies as a wildlife photographer is “Expect something wonderful.” Today this story fits as it happened last year at this time. I share it because it’s a great example of celebrating the unexpected, the unknown, that a New Year can bring.

This is the best way to begin a New Year.

It’s not about the movie, “Kill Bill, 2”, but Keel-billed Tou-can.

For several days I suffered from bronchitis and spent most of my time in bed. At 8:02 one morning, I raised my head slightly off my pillow to look out at our backyard. I saw a shiny, yellow, banana-like, something that reflected the sunlight in our neighbor’s berry-covered tamarind tree about 90 feet from our upstairs bedroom. I told my husband that it looked like a toucan, snatched the binoculars, screamed it was, watched it hopscotch up the tree, grabbed the camera, got a few shots, and saw it fly towards a nearby parking lot.

Keel-billed Toucan in tamarind tree

I threw on some clothes and ran to that lot. Not only was the toucan there, but it appeared to explore an old woodpecker hole in a dead palm. It even pulled out some of the pithy interior with that seemingly over-sized bill. Although mesmerized by the size and colors of this two foot bird, I photographed it at the palm tree cavity at 8:15 AM as it excavated!

Keel-billed Toucan holding on to woodpecker hole

I started coughing and the toucan flew away. Lesson learned: exertion isn’t good for bronchitis.

By the way, this is the same hole that a pair of Red-lored Parrots cleaned out in December, 2010. They left Feb. 18, 2011 when the White-fronted Parrots claimed this potential nesting site. In late Oct.,2011, the White-fronted Parrots arrived again and have worked sporadically on that cavity until present.
I digress but those background stories of this particular palm fascinate me.

A few minutes after the toucan left, a pair of White-fronted Parrots arrived in another tree behind the palm tree at 8:34 AM. While the male served as look out, the female flew to the hole. I started coughing again and they left.

White-fronted Parrot after toucan flew away

Despondent that I had unintentionally interrupted two bird species showing interest in that same hole, I started to leave when a Green Jay caught my eye. It had some type of food in its mouth and searched for several places to hide it on the parking lot rock wall. Finally it poked the morsel into a rock crevice. Now here’s the amazing part; it picked up pieces of leaves and stuffed them into its food storage safety spot for camouflage.

Green Jay food storage covered in leaves Green Jay on rock wall with food

After all this excitement, I walked home while I sweated like a maniac and grinned from ear to ear. 

But wait…there’s more.

I sat on our upstairs terrace, telephoned a friend about my adventure as I stared at that tamarind tree that once held a toucan. I sat in disbelief that I saw a Keel-billed Toucan in Merida.

Suddenly the toucan reappeared out of nowhere. I shrieked to my friend the toucan had returned, cut off the phone, picked up the camera, and tried not to cough. It flew to a neighbor’s wall and seemed to look at me! How incredible to see those colors in its bill, but what was the function of those flaming red feathers under its tail? I still don’t know.

Keel-billed Toucan on wall

Those few seconds of awe disappeared as the toucan flew over our home. I peeked out our upstairs bedroom windows and found it in a fruiting royal palm across the street! YAY!

Keel-billed Toucan at fruiting palm


I climbed out slowly on the roof to enjoy my toucan observation. In Merida. A toucan in Merida and I got to see it! All of a sudden a nine inch or so Couch’s kingbird chased it from the palm. The kingbird returned to its utility line where it perched before the harassment. Frankly I was upset I couldn’t see the toucan anymore.

Couch's Kingbird after chasing larger toucan

As if I hadn’t observed several avian species interacting in less than hour, a Tropical Mockingbird burst on the scene and pursued that kingbird. “Wildlife justice” perhaps? Not really. Just a territorial dispute.

Throughout these efforts, I tried to figure out if the toucan were a former captive bird or not. I read where several visited in the Hacienda Chichen area. I wrote superb bird guide, Alex Dzib. He replied, “Looking at the toucan images, I would guess it may be wild since its checking in the bird nest (tree cavity). Toucans feed on fruits and also may take eggs from bird nests; to me it’s looking inside the nest for eggs and also may be feeding on fruits from palm trees.”

But wait, there’s still more.

The toucan returned to the tamarind ten days later and also to the parking lot. As I watched, it investigated that woodpecker hole again. I noticed how the tail feathers were folded, bent, and somewhat ragged just as if it were in the wild and roosting inside a tree cavity where the feathers would be bent.

Keel-billed Toucan ten days later

Was it a wild bird or captive? In my heart it acted wild and strong, but maybe that’s what I hoped for it. Regardless, I am still grateful that I experienced the toucan, parrots, jay, kingbird, and mockingbird to celebrate my New Year.

Hope 2013 is as exciting for you and you can expect something wonderful!

This entry was posted in Backyard Birding in Merida and Beyond and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Barbara MacKinnon de Montes says:

    A great telling of drama in the avian world! Re toucans in Chichén Itza – they are wild. I used to see them frequently, although seasonally, 35 years ago and even now, toucans have been observed feeding at fruiting trees in Chumbec and 15 kms sw of Espita.

  2. Your article reads like a mystery thriller. I never knew bird watching could be so exciting. I hung on every word! I’ve never been bird watching but reading your articles has inspired me to start watching in my own backyard.

  3. Marianne says:

    Once again, you teach me to look in another direction. A beautiful and optimistic story.

  4. Cherie, you continue outdoing yourself. This was a really fun, exciting and interesting post to read. You had me jumping from one paragraph to the next! And you captured all the images to go with the story, amazing! Surprisingly, we were also visited briefly by a Keel-billed Toucan in our garden, this past 24th of December. We considered it our Christmas present from the Mayan Jungle. Keep up the great work!

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