This toucanet is easily identified by its saffron yellow head and breast, olive mantle and red rump. Sexes are similar but the female is duller (somewhat more olive in color) and the bill is shorter. The greenish-horn bill has red patches surrounded by yellowish-gray at the base. The rump and ocular skin are red. The iris is pale yellowish.
As the name implies, Chestnut-eared aracaris have a chestnut coloring around the throat and ears. The head is black and the back and tail dark green to almost black. Their undersides are yellow with a red band and rump. Their dark brown hooked beaks have a yellow-orange stripe along the bottom of the upper mandible. The serrated edge of the upper mandible is prominent. The whitish eyes are surrounded by grayish-blue facial skin. The feet and legs are yellowish-green. Sexes are somewhat similar but the female has more brown on the head, shorter bill and the black area on lower throat is not as wide.
Compared to some other toucans, this species has a rather limited range in the north-western corner of South America, found in parts of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil. It has never been common in zoos and was not bred in captivity until 2009, at the DWA, where specimens were received through the cooperation of the Venezuelan organizations PROFAUNA and FUNZPA. While it may appear bewilderingly similar to other aracaris, the two complete black bands across its chest distinguish it from any other toucan.
Before the 1980s, this small toucan from Northeastern South America was very rare in captivity. Since the first captive breeding took place in 1980, in a California private aviary, hundreds have been hatched in the US, and the captive population appears to be self-sustaining. Those in zoos are carefully monitored for genetic diversity through a Species Survival Plan (SSP) of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and many others are kept privately. Since 2001, more than 50 have hatched at the DWA. This is one of the few toucans whose sexes can be easily distinguished; males have black heads and the females have brown heads.
This elegant bird is unique among toucans for having a cap of tightly curled feathers that appear “permed”. While not a rare bird in its range (south of the Amazon, divided among Peru, Bolivia, and Amazonian Brazil), it was almost unknown in captivity before the 1960s, and has never been common in zoos. The Curl-crested aracari was not bred in captivity until 1996. The DWA has had immense success propagating this species, with more than 100 birds since 2006.
This bird has one of the smallest ranges of any toucan along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, and a small portion of Panama. It is not rare there, but has hardly ever been seen in captivity. Through special permits from the Government of Panama, the DWA received several birds, and the world’s first captive breeding took place in Dallas in 2008.