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Albino Toucan in His BVDs
As we carefully pick our way through the humid rain forest blanketing the fog-covered slopes of Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, we first hear the ratchety “rrrrk-rrrrk!” call of the toucans, long before we actually glimpse any of the creatures.
For the better part of an hour, we struggle through the overarching and overwhelming, glistening green of the dense understory, catching only the occasional spot of color of a lone orchid or heliconia flower. And then, at last, peering through the deep shade of the verdant canopy under an intense midday sun, we spy a patch of vivid white, high in the branching of a stately ceiba tree. It is the Albino Toucan! — the oh-so-rarest of the near passerines!
The vast majority of toucans bear highly distinctive multi-colored bills (as some of us may recall from memories of our childhood ‘Froot Loops’ boxes and TV commercials). The birds’ beak coloration may play a part not only in intimidating smaller avian competitors for food or nesting sites, but also in attracting sexual partners.
Clearly this Albino Toucan, with virtually no bill or body coloration at all, and only the slightest hint of beak banding, has been placed by the genetic lottery at a tremendous evolutionary disadvantage. Ah, but our little friend is no bird-brain! To compensate, he has acquired a brand-new romantically-patterned pair of BVDs to serve as his stand-in sexual come-on to all the cute little birdies in the bosque. Who can resist?