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The Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis) also known as the great Indian hornbill or great pied hornbill, is one of the larger members of the hornbill family. It is found in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Its impressive size and colour have made it important in many tribal cultures and rituals.
The great hornbill is long-lived, living for nearly 50 years in captivity. It is predominantly frugivorous, but is an opportunist and will prey on small mammals, reptiles and birds.
Distribution and habitat
Great hornbills are found in the forests of India, Bhutan, Nepal, Mainland Southeast Asia, Indonesian Island of Sumatra and North eastern region of India. The distribution of the species is fragmented over its range in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. In the subcontinent they are found in a few forest areas in the Western Ghats and in the forests along the Himalayas.
Their distribution extends into Thailand, Burma, Malaya, and Sumatra. A small feral population is found in Singapore. Their habitat is dense old growth (unlogged) forests in hilly regions. They appear to be dependent on large stretches of forest, unlike many of the smaller hornbills.
In Thailand the home range of males was found to be about 3.7 km2 during the breeding season and about 14.7 km2 during the non-breeding season.
Range map from www.oiseaux.net - Ornithological Portal Oiseaux.net
www.oiseaux.net is one of those MUST visit pages if you're in to bird watching. You can find just about everything there
The great hornbill is a large bird, 95–130 cm long, with a 152 cm wingspan and a weight of 2.15–4 kg. It is the heaviest, but not the longest, Asian hornbill.
Females are smaller than males and have bluish-white instead of red eyes, although the orbital skin is pinkish. Like other hornbills, they have prominent "eyelashes".
The most prominent feature of the hornbill is the bright yellow and black casque on top of its massive bill. The casque appears U-shaped when viewed from the front, and the top is concave, with two ridges along the sides that form points in the front, whence the Latin species epithet bicornis (two-horned).
The back of the casque is reddish in females, while the underside of the front and back of the casque is black in males.
The iris, underside of the casque and orbital skin colours vary between the sexes
By L. Shyamal - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1500815
The casque is hollow and serves no known purpose, although it is believed to be the result of sexual selection. Male hornbills have been known to indulge in aerial casque butting, with birds striking each other in flight.
The male spreads the preen gland secretion, which is yellow, onto the primary feathers and bill to give them the bright yellow colour. The commissure of the beak is black and has a serrated edge which becomes worn with age.
The wing beats are heavy and the sound produced by birds in flight can be heard from a distance. This sound has been likened to the puffing of a steam locomotive starting up. The flight involves stiff flaps followed by glides with the fingers splayed and upcurled. They sometimes fly at great height over forests.
The sound is amplified +10%. Recorded in primary/secondary rainforest. Bird was calling from top of a tree.
The species was formerly broken into subspecies cavatus, from the Western Ghats, and homrai, the nominate form from the sub-Himalayan forests. The subspecies from Sumatra was sometimes called cristatus. Variation across populations is mainly in size, Himalayan birds being larger than those from further south, and the species is now usually considered monotypic.
Like other members of the hornbill family, they have highly pneumatized bones, with hollow air cavities extending to the tips of the wing bones. This anatomical feature was noted by Richard Owen, who dissected a specimen that died at the Zoological Society of London in 1833.
Behaviour and ecology
Food and feeding
Great hornbills are usually seen in small parties, with larger groups sometimes aggregating at fruit trees. A congregation of 150 to 200 birds has been recorded in southeastern Bhutan. In the wild, the great hornbill's diet consists mainly of fruit. Figs are particularly important as a food source.
Vitex altissima has been noted as another important food source. Great hornbills also forage on lipid-rich fruits of the Lauraceae and Myristicaceae families such as Persea, Alseodaphne and Myristica. They obtain the water that they need entirely from their diet of fruits.
They are important dispersers of many forest tree species. They will also eat small mammals, birds, small reptiles and insects. Lion-tailed macaques have been seen to forage alongside these hornbills.
Great Hornbill looking for food
Khao Yai National Park, Thailand - January 2015
They forage along branches, moving along by hopping, looking for insects, nestling birds and small lizards, tearing up bark and examining them. Prey are caught, tossed in the air and swallowed.
A rare squirrel, the Travancore flying squirrel (Petinomys fuscocapillus) has been eaten, and Indian scops owl (Otus bakkamoena), jungle owlet (Glaucidium radiatum) and Sri Lanka green pigeon (Treron pompadora) have been taken as prey in the Western Ghats.
During the breeding season (January to April) great hornbills become very vocal. They make loud duets, beginning with a loud "kok" given about once a second by the male, to which the female joins in. The pair then calls in unison, turning into a rapid mixture of roars and barks. They prefer mature forests for nesting.
Large, tall and old trees, particularly emergents that rise above the canopy, seem to be preferred for nesting. They form monogamous pair bonds and live in small groups of 2-40 individuals. Group courtship displays involving up to 20 birds have been observed.
The female hornbill builds a nest in the hollow of a large tree trunk, sealing the opening with a plaster made up mainly of feces. She remains imprisoned there, relying on the male to bring her food, until the chicks are half developed. During this period the female undergoes a complete moult.
Moult (US molt)
verb [no OBJ.] (of an animal) shed old feathers, hair, or skin, or an old shell, to make way for a new growth: the adult birds were already moulting into their winter shades of grey | [with OBJ.] the snake moults its skin.
• (of hair or feathers) fall out to make way for new growth: the last of his juvenile plumage had moulted.
noun a loss of plumage, skin, or hair, especially as a regular feature of an animal's life cycle.
ORIGIN Middle English moute, from an Old English verb based on Latin mutare ‘to change’. For the intrusive -l-, compare with words such as fault.
The young chicks have no feathers and appear very plump. The mother is fed by her mate through a slit in the seal. The clutch consists of one or two eggs, which she incubates for 38–40 days. The female voids feces through the nest slit, as do the chicks from the age of two weeks.
Once the female emerges from the nest, the chicks seal it again.
The young birds have no trace of a casque. After the second year the front extremity separates from the culmen, and in the third year it becomes a transverse crescent with the two edges growing outwards and upwards, while the anterior widens to the width of the rear end. Full development takes five years.
Illustration by English zoological artist T. W. Wood showing the eyelashes,
worn bill edge and the concave casque with ridged sides
By Drawn on wood by T. W. Wood - 1890 (10th) edition, from PapuaWeb, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4756060
Roost sites are used regularly and birds arrive punctually at sunset from long distances, following the same routes each day. Several tall trees in the vicinity may be used, the birds choosing the highest branches with little foliage. They jockey for position until late at dusk. When sleeping they draw their neck back and the bill is held upwards at an angle
Very few hornbills are held in captivity, and few of them breed well. Females at the nests are extremely easy to capture, and birds caught in the wild are mostly female. Breeding them in captivity has been notoriously difficult, with fewer than a dozen successful attempts. Their extreme selectivity for mates and their long and strong pair bonds make them difficult to maintain for breeding.
In captivity hornbills eat fruits and meat, a healthy diet consisting mostly of fruit and some source of protein. A few have been tamed in captivity but hornbill behavior in captivity is described as highly strung. Captive specimens may bask in the sun with outstretched wings.
Due to habitat loss and hunting in some areas, the great hornbill is evaluated as near threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed in Appendix I of CITES. Declines in population have been noted in many areas such as Cambodia. Molecular approaches to the study of their population diversity have been attempted.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2.
International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
Tribal peoples threaten the great Indian hornbill by hunting it for its various parts. The beaks and head are used in charms and the flesh is believed to be medicinal. Young birds are considered a delicacy. Tribesmen in parts of northeastern India and Borneo use the feathers for head-dresses, and the skulls are often worn as decorations.
The Sema Nagas consider the flesh unfit for eating, believing that it produces sores on their feet, as in the bird. When dancing with the feathers of the hornbill, they avoid eating vegetables, as doing so is also believed to produce the same sores on the feet.
Among the Zomi, a festival without a hornbill feather is incomplete. Conservation programmes have attempted to provide tribes with feathers from captive hornbills and ceramic casques to substitute for natural ones.
The great hornbill is called homrai in Nepal (hence the name of the Himalayan subspecies) and banrao, both meaning "king of the forest". It is called “Vezhaambal” in Malayalam.
Sighted: (Date of first photo that I could use) 18th of January 2015
Location: Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
Thank's to Nick Upton at www.thaibirding.com for HOT birding tip. His web page is a ONE STOP for everything you need for bird watching in Thailand. There are reviews of the birding sites with maps and information.
And if you like Nick Upton's web page you will also like www.norththailandbirding.com I have used this page together with Nick Upton's page when planning my birding tours. Excellent reviews and information about the birding sites.
I also got the Thai names of the birds from www.norththailandbirding.com. There is a bird check list with all the names in English and Thai. And of course also the Scientific Name. Down load the birdlist in Microsoft Excel format at www.norththailandbirding.com Or down load the Excel sheet by clicking HERE
And my new aid, maybe, and I say maybe the best aid. I brought my mobile phone as my SIM card have stopped working and I tried to get it to work again so I can use the internet. Thus I had my phone in my pocket on my first game drive in Jim Corbett National Park.
We saw a bird and I asked my Guide and the driver if they had a pen and a paper as I had forgot my pen and paper in my room. I remembered my LG phone and I recorded the name. And thus I will always bring my phone. Writing the name in the car and I have found more than once that it can be hard to read what I had wrote when I'm back in my room.
So now I always have my mobile in my pocket and it has been a great help. And from November 2018 I use eBird. Bird watching in U.A.E and Oman and my guide in Dubai recommended eBird and I have used the app since then and I note every bird I can identify in my eBird app.
Great Hornbill - นกกก, นกกาฮัง - 18th of January 2015 - Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
PLEASE! If I have made any mistakes identifying any bird, PLEASE let me know on my guestbook