Meet Bonito, a green araçari (ahr-uh-SAHR-ee) who’s enchanting guests in Amazon Rising. He’s one of the newest additions to Shedd’s Animal Encounters program, and you can see him, not in a habitat but out and about with an interpreter during scheduled appearances.
Green araçaris (Pteroglossus viridis) are the smallest members of the toucan family. They’re native to the rain forest canopy in northeastern South America, where their hot, bright colors actually mask them from predators. Bonito, however, was raised locally by a professional bird breeder who donated him to Shedd.
Bonito is the first tropical bird in the Animal Encounters program, and you’re most likely to encounter this sprightly foot-long creature (including 4½ inches of beak) in the natural gathering space under the low-water house in Amazon Rising. And when you do see him, he might be playing with a blueberry or other piece of fruit.
“These birds like to toss food into the air or mash it up before they eat it,” says Maggie Fahner, Shedd’s animal programs collection manager and Bonito’s primary tender and trainer. That’s because his great big beak has far more of a visual impact than a physical one. It’s designed for juicy fruits.
Maggie explains that Bonito is almost 100 percent frugivorous, or fruit-eating. The 5-ounce bird enjoys at least seven different types of food each day from a menu that includes apples, pears, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, papaya, blueberries, blackberries, green and red grapes, raspberries, plums and a few vegetables such as raw peas and romaine lettuce. And everything is organic.
That’s especially important in a diet that is exclusively produce. Many of Bonito’s favorites are typically farmed using massive amounts of chemicals and show up on lists of foods containing the highest pesticide residues. In the summer, Maggie shops for organic fruits and veggies at the Evanston farmers market; in the winter, she hits the health food stores.
“Araçaris have really big appetites for such small birds,” Maggie continues, and that figures in their important role in the Amazon ecosystem as seed dispersers. As they hop from branch to branch through the canopy, araçaris leave a trail of splotches containing indigestible seeds on the ground below. So not only will guests enjoy watching Bonito eat, but Maggie guarantees that they’ll be treated to a display of his dispersal technique. She carries paper towels.