Hornbills are fascinating birds, known for their distinctive bills and other unique characteristics. There are about 55 extant species of Hornbill Bucerotidae in the world. Here are some interesting facts about the family, and about some of the individual species:

Old World Birds

Hornbill species are found in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In the Neogene period (23.03 million years ago - 2.58 million years ago), Hornbills lived in North Africa and Southern Europe.

Unique Beak and Casque

Hornbills are easily recognized by their large, curved bills. These are often brightly colored. Some are topped with a casque - a hollow structure that can vary in size and shape among different species. This casque may be used in courtship rituals, as a resonating chamber for their calls, for dominance displays or fights, or simply to reinforce the heavy bill.

Great Hornbill by Bernard Spragg (public domain)

Special Necks

Hornbills are the only birds who have their first and second neck bones fused together! It is thought that this adaptation gives them a better chance to hold up their large, heavy bills! The fusion of these neck bones provides enhanced strength and stability, allowing them to use their powerful beaks effectively for various activities such as foraging, nesting, and self-defense. 

Remarkable Nesting Behavior

Hornbills have an unusual nesting habit. The females are sealed into a tree cavity. In some species the female does this on her own, and in others the male helps to complete the seal. At the end of this construction, once the female is about ready to lay the eggs, only a small slit remains open!  The male then feeds her and the chicks through this slit until the young are ready to fledge. This amazing behavior protects the nest from predators. Ground Hornbills are the only species that do not nest this way.

Diverse Diet

Hornbills are omnivores and their diet varies widely, including fruit, insects, small mammals, and birds. Some forest species are vital for seed dispersal in their habitats due to their fruit-eating habits. Food picked up with the tip of the beak is tossed into the throat by jerking the head back.

Southern Ground Hornbill by Neil McIntosh (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Eyelashes

Among the many fascinating attributes of hornbills, one of the most intriguing is their possession of eyelashes, a rarity in the avian world. These eyelashes, far from being mere aesthetic features, serve an essential functional role. In the dusty, debris-filled environments where many hornbills reside, such as dense forests or savannas, their eyes are constantly exposed to potential irritants. The eyelashes act as a protective barrier, shielding their sensitive eyes from fine dust particles, small insects, and plant matter. This adaptation is particularly crucial given the hornbills' active lifestyle, which involves foraging through foliage, digging into bark, and often engaging in flight through dense vegetation. 

Southern Ground Hornbill eyelashes

Wrinkled Hornbill by Martin de Lusenet (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Endangered Status

Several Asian Hornbill species, including the iconic Helmeted Hornbill and the Great Hornbill, find themselves on the brink, mainly due to habitat loss and hunting. These birds, integral to tropical forest ecosystems, are losing their homes at an alarming rate as deforestation for agriculture, logging, and urban development ravages their natural habitats. The situation is exacerbated by the illegal wildlife trade, where hornbill casques (the upper part of their beaks) are highly sought after for ornamental purposes, akin to elephant ivory. Additionally, in some regions, hornbills are hunted for their meat and feathers, further dwindling their numbers. 

Birdorable Hornbills

Our Birdorable family of birds includes seven species of the world's 55 Hornbills. Here are the Birdorable Hornables:

Famous Hornbill

Among the most recognizable hornbills in popular culture is Zazu, the fastidious and loyal majordomo to the king in Disney's iconic film "The Lion King." Portrayed as an African Red-billed Hornbill, Zazu is a character who combines wit and wisdom in his role as advisor and confidant to the rulers of Pride Lands. This depiction in a major animated film has brought significant attention to the species, characterized by their distinctive long, down-curved bill and their vibrant mix of colors. The African Red-billed Hornbill, native to the savannas and woodlands of Sub-Saharan Africa, plays a vital role in the ecosystem, primarily as a seed disperser and a predator of insects.

Cute Birdorable Hornbill Gifts

Birdorable Rufous Hornbill

Today’s new species is one of 10 hornbill species found in the Philippines. The Rufous Hornbill is a Philippine endemic found in forest habitat across 11 of the nations’ islands. It is also known as the Philippine Hornbill.

There is little known to science about Rufous Hornbills as they have not been studied in detail. Not much is known of their behaviors. They feed on a varied diet including fruit, seeds, and insects.

There are three subspecies of Rufous Hornbill. Our bird is of the Northern race (Buceros hydrocorax hydrocorax). These have an all-red bill. Northern birds have either red or blue eyes. Southern birds are in two subspecies (Buceros hydrocorax mindanensis and Buceros hydrocorax semigaleatus). These birds have yellow on the lower part of the bill and all have blue eyes. Some taxonomies split the Northern and Southern birds into two separate species.

Rufous Hornbills are vulnerable to extinction due to habitat loss and illegal hunting, with a decreasing population trend.

Rufous Hornbill
Rufous Hornbill by Ronnie Macdonald (CC BY 2.0)

Tomorrow’s new bird is a common species found across sub-Saharan Africa. These widespread doves are named for a plumage attribute – can you guess the species?

Cute Rufous Hornbill Gifts

Our Birdorable Bonanza: 2015 Advent Edition continues today with a bird named for its remarkable bill: the Rhinoceros Hornbill!

Birdorable Rhinoceros Hornbill

The Rhinoceros Hornbill is a large species of hornbill that lives in parts of southeast Asia, including Malaysia, where it is the national bird. They live in forest habitat and are non-migratory, though birds may move outside of breeding season if availability of food dictates.

Like all of the birds in their family, Rhinoceros Hornbills have very large bills with a large casque, or protrusion to the upper beak. The bill is horn-colored with red or orange coloration which varies in intensity from bird to bird. The sexes are similar in appearance, though male birds have larger beaks and casques and females lake the black outline between the two. They also have different colored eyes: males have red or orange eyes, while females have light, whitish eyes.

Rhinoceros Hornbills are considered to be Near Threatened by the IUCN. They face loss of habitat due to logging and agricultural land use, as well as direct threats from hunting and collecting.

Rhinoceros hornbill
Rhinoceros hornbill by Antoine Hubert (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Impressive hornbil
Rhinoceros hornbill by Tambako The Jaguar (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Rhinoceros Hornbill
Rhinoceros hornbill by Jim Bowen (CC BY 2.0)

The Rhinoceros Hornbill is our 630th Birdorable bird.

Tomorrow's bird is a parrot with a superb name. Can you guess what it will be?

Our 2013 Birdorable Bonanza is off to an exciting start with the introduction of the Southern Ground Hornbill. These striking birds are native to parts of southern Africa, where they have carved out a unique niche in the avian world.

Birdorable Southern Ground Hornbill

Southern Ground Hornbills are known for their complex social structure. They live in groups consisting of a breeding pair and several helper birds. These helpers are typically related to the breeding pair and play a crucial role in raising offspring. Unlike many bird species where only the parents care for the young, Southern Ground Hornbills have a cooperative breeding system. This means that young hornbills, often from previous years' broods, assist in rearing the chicks.

One distinctive feature of Southern Ground Hornbills is their bare facial skin, which stands out in stark contrast to their dark feathers. This exposed skin serves a practical purpose. During the dry spells in the African savannah, dust can be a significant issue. To combat this, Southern Ground Hornbills have evolved specially adapted feathers around their eyes that function like long eyelashes. These "eyelash feathers" help keep dust and debris away from their sensitive eyes, ensuring clear vision even in dusty conditions.

Southern Ground Hornbills are large and impressive birds, known for their deep, booming calls that resonate across the savannah. Their unique appearance and fascinating behavior make them a captivating addition to the Birdorable family.

Southern Ground-Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri)
Southern Ground-Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) by Lip Kee (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Stay tuned for more exciting bird additions as our 2013 Birdorable Bonanza continues throughout the month of July!

Our Bonanza continues tomorrow with a small beach-nesting species. Tune in tomorrow to see what it is!

bonanza-2013-preview-2

Cute Southern Ground Hornbill Gifts

Our Birdorable Bonanza 2012 continues today with the Trumpeter Hornbill.

Trumpeter Hornbill

The Trumpeter Hornbill has the honor of being the first hornbill species to be added to Birdorable. These gregarious birds are found in southern parts of Africa. Trumpeter Hornbills are named for their baby-like crying vocalization, which is trumpeted out at a very loud volume. Here's what it sounds like:

Trumpeter Hornbill (Ceratogymna bucinator)
Trumpeter Hornbill by Ian n. White

All hornbill species have a very unusual nesting practice. They use natural tree cavities, but they make an interesting modification. Prior to incubation, the entrance to the cavity is sealed by a wall constructed by the female, who may or may not be assisted by her mate. It is sealed so tightly that she is unable to leave the cavity! During the incubation period, she receives all food from her mate through a narrow slit in the wall. When the chicks hatch, the whole family continues to be fed through the slit with food provided by the male. When the babies grow too large for all to remain comfortably inside the cavity, the mother hornbill breaks out -- but still the chicks remain inside! The broken cavity wall is repaired and they continue to grow, now receiving food delivered by both adults.

Sample Trumpeter Hornbill t-shirts and gifts

Tomorrow's bird is just a little thing that wears a crown of gold. Can you guess what it will be?

Birdorable Bonanza Preview