Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris)

Forms a superspecies with Malabar Pied Hornbill and Palawan Hornbill. Two subspecies are recognised; A. a. albirostris occurs in the Oriental region south to northern Peninsular Malaysia; A. a. convexus replaces it here and across the Sunda subregion

oriental pied hornbill

Male 70-85 cm,female 60-65 cm. Male 680-907 g; female 500-879 g. Medium-sized hornbill; black with white underparts. white on outer tail tips and trailing wing edges show in flight.

The male has a large creamy bill with large black base on lower mandible; the casque is large, cylindrical with projecting compressed anterior part marked black. The female’s bill and casque are smaller,marked with black,and without the anterior blade; lower mandible has dark red spot.

Both sexes have pale blue bare skin around eyes and on throat. Juvenile is less glossy black, bill is smaller and pale with undeveloped casque. Vocal by both sexes is a characteristic variety of squeals and chuckles described as “kleng-keng … kek-kek-kek-kek-kek”.

oriental pied hornbill male

Ecology and habits

Apart from maybe the Indian Grey Hornbill, this is the only Asian hornbill that does not depend on primary forest for habitat, not even for breeding.

It does occur in closed deciduous or evergreen forest, but it prefers forest edges, open woodlands and even coastal and riverine scrub and cultivation. Occurs in the coastal lowlands and extends inland up to 700 m elevation.

In South-east Asia it can be seen at close range, coming to feeding tables in beach resorts and villages near forested areas where it will feed on papaya, rambutan, mango, banana and other readily available fruits. If feeds mainly on fruits; in Thailand 49 different fruit varieties have been identified with more non-fig (47%) than fig species (33%).

Wild fruit of preference other than figs includes Polyalthia (Annonaceae), Horsfieldia (Myristicaceae), Strombosia (Oleaceae) and Dysoxylum (Meliaceae). It will also take animal food and a large variety of prey has been identified (56 species) including various insects, centipedes, millipedes, scorpions, spiders, snails, earthworms, lizards, small birds and eggs, and rats; occasionally it even takes snails, crabs and fish from the water’s edge.

It feeds mainly in the canopies of trees but will also drop to the ground to pick up fallen fruits or prey; it uses its large bill with finesse to grab, tear and swallow small food objects. Moves in pairs of family groups and is largely sedentary and territorial.

Outside the breeding season, flocks of up to 170 birds have been recorded. In Khao Yai NP, they move around to favorable feeding habitats and fruiting trees. In non-breeding season they many be seen dust-bathing to repel ectoparasites.

oriental pied hornbill

Breeding ecology

The species is well studied and documented. The nest is a natural cavity at ground level up to 30 m up in a tree, often Dipterocarpus or Cliestocalyx species; rarely in a limestone cliff.

In Singapore, artificial nesting boxes have been used. Along Kinabatangan River, Sabah, it nests in a cavity of Nauclea (Rubiaceae) and Cratoxylum (Hypericaceae).

The nesting is in territorial pairs; the female does most of the nest preparation and seals herself in after mating, while the male provides her with pieces of earth taken from roots of a fallen tree or bug from the ground

Eggs are laid at various times across the range but typically Feb-Apr on the Asian Mainland; Sep-May on many Malaysian and Indonesian islands. The clutch is 1-4 eggs; incubation period is 25-33 days.The male will feed the female and the chicks at  the nest with regurgitated food or small prey carried in the bill.

The female emerges with the chicks or up to 20 days before the chicks, being confined in the nest for 66-100 days. Nestling period takes 41-64 days. Chicks hatched last may become weaker and be killed by the female or starve, then consumed by a sibling or the female.

On average, the entire nesting cycle takes 85-90 days (range 70-107 days) depending on geographical area.