Great Hornbill Fact File
The most noticeable feature of the great hornbill is the large structure on top of the bill and head known as the casque. This serves to amplify noises they make and to indicate the level of maturity. It is formed from thin cells supported by hollow bones so is quite light.
While the casque is light for its size they do have the first two neck vertebrae fused to support the weight of this.
Their casque sits on top of the beak. It is rather large and starts broad before coming to a point at the end. At its largest this beak may measure as much as 35cm (14in) long. The upper mandible is usually yellow while the lower mandible is white.
On the body they have black feathers. Across the wings are black feathers with white tips and cross bars. They have a long white tail which has a black band running across roughly 2/3 of the way down. On the neck is a white band.
This coloring with a range of horizontal bands provides camouflage in the light or shade within the forests that these birds inhabit.
Often any white feathers on the great hornbill will be stained yellow. This is due an oil which is secreted from their preen gland.
The different genders can be determined based on eye color. The iris of a male is red and is surrounded by a black ring while on females the iris is blue and surrounded with a red ring. On their upper eyelid is a set of eyelashes.
Males are typically larger than females. Om average they measure up to 1.5m (5ft) long and weigh 3kg (6.5lbs). Their wingspan is 150-170cm (59.1-66.9in).
Wild 35-40 years
Captive 50 years
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The great hornbill is an omnivore. Their diet is made up mostly of fruit and berries with figs being commonly eaten. This is supplemented with meat such as small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, eggs and insects.
Food is swallowed by grabbing it in the end of the beak and then throwing the head back. Larger food may be held in the bill and hit against a log before it is consumed.
Large groups of these birds gather at fruiting trees and they play an important role of spreading the seeds of these trees through the forest.
Great hornbills have not been observed drinking in the wild and it is thought all their moisture needs come from their diet.
Asia is the native home of the great hornbill. Here they can be found throughout Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Viet Nam.
They make their home in deciduous and evergreen forests. For nesting they require a large tree so their habitat needs to contain these.
Breeding begins in January and will last through till June. Before breeding the males will gather to compete for females. Males may compete in the air and this includes pairs butting their casque together in the air. The winning male gets to mate with the female.
Once a pair forms they are typically monogamous and will remain together for life. They perform a courtship display in which they will call back and forth to one another.
A pair will establish a nest in the natural hollow of a tree.
In to this nest a female will lay up to 2 eggs. These are incubated for 25-40 days. Often only one of these will hatch.
Following the laying of the eggs the female will remain in the nest and the male goes outside. From either side they work to seal the opening of the hollow with dung, bark and food leaving only a small opening.
Each day the male will find food and then pass it to the female through this opening. He makes roughly 5 visits per day. This continues for 3 months at which time the chick is large enough to be left alone and the female breaks the seal and leaves.
Once its mother is out the chick reseals the nest and the male and female will work together to feed the chick for a further month before it too leaves the nest.
After the chick has left the nest the family will move together through the forest to find food.
Their casque starts to grow at 5 months old but it may take up to 5 years to be fully formed.
Great Indian hornbills can be heard as they move through the forest due to the loud ‘whooshing’ noise made by each wingbeat. This may be heard as much as 0.8km (0.5 miles) away.
Most great Indian hornbills live in a pair or small group with their chicks. On occasion they will form a flock of up to 20 birds to move around during the day.
At night these hornbills will meet up with potentially thousands of other great Indian hornbills to roost and when they are here they can be incredibly vocal.
Their vocalizations include ‘cackles’ and ‘roars.’
Predators and Threats
Humans affect the population of great Indian hornbills through deforestation and capture for the pet trade. Often they visit the same spots each day making it easy for poachers to locate the great Indian hornbills.
Their fat is also prized by humans for use in medical treatment and as gun polish. Their casque and feathers are also used in traditional ceremonies.
The great hornbill is the largest member of the hornbill family.
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