The Hornbill

There are over 50 different varieties of Hornbill. The one that I want to focus on today is the Rhinoceros Hornbill. It is the State Bird of Malaysia. I became acquainted with these amazing birds during a trip to the Sarawak in East Malaysia many years ago.

The arrow points to Sarawak. The Rhinoceros Hornbill is present also in Sabah as well as Borneo, in yellow.

You could not move through the area around the harbour of Kuching without seeing ‘something’ decorated with the motif of a hornbill – from table cloths, batik wall hangings, phone cases, and old and not-so-old wood carvings. To actually see these highly endangered birds you needed a guide to take you to the jungle areas where local tribes still live in their long houses. There the hornbill was also used as a design for the totems on the poles supporting their roof as well as on many of the art of tattoos.

“Iban? Long House near Kuching” by rosskevin756 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The weavers of the area specialize in ikat. Ikat is a type of resist dying. The threads are resist dyed before they are woven. The pattern in the textile below is called the ‘Feather of the Hornbill’.

Old carving of Hornbill, Ironwood. Sarawak Museum, Kuching.

The Rhinoceros Hornbill is depicted in numerous designs in wood carving. The wooden figure above is a Kenyalang. Historically, these carvings were associated with many of the tribes in Sarawak, Sabah, and Borneo. For the Iban, the figure is an essential part of a celebration called the Gawai Kenyalang. Its role was as a messenger. It called upon the spirit world to give courage to the warriors who went out headhunting. The carvings are still made today and they are still important for the various tribal communities. Head hunting ended in the 20th century and most of the carvings are considered cultural icons.

The Rhinoceros Hornbill is a large bird, 80 to 90 cm (31–35 in) long. The males are larger than the females. The birds are covered with black feathers except for the white tail that has a single black band. Their legs are white. The Hornbill is most notable for its colourful bill which is huge. In fact, that orange and red bill is what gave the bird its name. The Hornbill uses this lightweight beak to gather its food, build its nests, seal the nest, and feed the chicks. The structure on top of the bill is called a casque. It is hollow and its function is to amplify the call of the birds. The eyes of the male are red with black rims while those of the female are white with a red rim like the one below.

“Rhinoceros Hornbill” by shankar s. is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In comparison, this is an image of the male so that you can see the difference in their eye colour. It is the easiest way to recognize each of the genders.

“Rhinoceros Hornbill” by Steve Wilson – over 10 million views Thanks !! is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Hornbills are very unique in their nesting habits. They are cavity nesters but with a twist. When the female is ready to lay her 1-3 eggs, she will locate a cavity in a tree trunk (or sometimes a rock formation) to make her nest. Once made she helps her bonded-for-life mate seal her into the cavity with mud. The only opening is a small oval hole where the male feeds the female during her confinement that lasts 50 days. He also feeds the nestlings. This arrangement is very practical. It helps protect the nest from any type of predator including lizards and snakes. Ninety days after the chicks hatch, the female will break open the mud covering to the nest.

The Rhinoceros Hornbill is listed as vulnerable. One of the biggest threats to its existence is the loss of the rainforest where it lives and builds its nest. It is also hunted for food as well as for items that are believed to give men virility including the feathers and the skull. The large trees that occupied the forested areas of Borneo are being cut down at an alarming rate. When I was there the wood was being shipped to China on those huge boats. It was overwhelming to see the forest being obliterated.

“Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros)” by Mark Louis Benedict is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In other news, Tiny Little Bob or Blue 463 nabbed the first fish of the morning on the Foulshaw Moss Osprey Nest in Cumbria. Tiny Little was busy eating it while sibling 462 waited on the nest. Tiny Little is off to a great start to the day! Go Tiny Little!

Karl II arrived at 8:10 to feed the three fledglings on the Black Stork nest in Estonia. The fledglings were incredible.

The glare of the sun on the camera creates a strong glow so you can’t see clearly what is going on. Karl arrives on the right and feeds the hungry storklings quickly. The nest is in the Karula National Park in Estonia.

One of the Storklings on the Siguldas Black Stork nest in Latvia has decided to get up close and personal with the camera and its supports while it waits for Grafs or Grafiene to bring them their breakfast.

The good news at the Peregrine Falcon Nest in the scrape box on the grounds of Charles Sturt University in Orange, Australia is that Izzi – cute little Izzi – has not been in the scrape box for six days. He has been heard but he has not gone in after several altercations with Xavier. Diamond, Izzi’s mother, is expected to lay her eggs by the end of August. Here is Diamond looking out over her territory.

Also in Australia, the two little sea eaglets, 27 and 28, are just cute. They are really growing. Dad brought in a life fish and was going to feed them today. Lady flew in and stepped on the fish before it could flop all over the chicks. Then she took over the feeding. Both ate well but 27 had an enormous crop.

It continues to be as good a day as it can be in Bird World. The juvenile Ospreys are eating and eating preparing to being their migration. For some of the UK nests the average number of days is around 90 hatch days old for fledging. We will be keeping our eyes open to see who is leaving.

Thank you so much for joining me. Have a wonderful Friday everyone. See you soon.

Thank you to the following for their streaming cams where I took my screen shots: WBSE Sea Eagle Cam, Birdlife Australia and the Discovery Centre, Cumbrian Wildlife Trust and the Foulshaw Moss Osprey Nest, Falconcam Osprey Project, C Sturt University and Cilla Kinross, the Eagle Club of Estonia, and the Latvian Fund for Nature.

2 Comments

  1. Salliane says:

    Those hornbills are a “hoot” Love those beaks.

    The couple that post on their website (birdtricks.com) have a toucan among other parrots. I understand they are very expensive and difficult to keep in captivity due to their diet.

    Thanks for sharing, Mary 🙂

    1. Glad you enjoyed that. They are beautiful birds but that trick of mudding up the opening to the nest is incredible!

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