© Dennis Dow, Woodland Park Zoo
The threatened hornbill (family
Bucerotidae) includes 54 different hornbill species including the great and ground
hornbills. Hornbills have a bony horn on
top of their bill called a casque, which makes their calls louder and easier to
hear through the dense forest. Although the casque looks heavy, it is made up
of tiny, hollow bones that are very light.
Hornbills are “Old World” birds, which mean that they live only in
Africa and Asia, and are not found in the Americas.
The greatest threats
affecting the hornbill are human-related and include habitat loss and illegal poaching
for their feathers. Hornbill feathers
are illegally sold to collectors around the world, or used in traditional Indonesian
costumes and jewelry.
The Coraciiformes Taxon Advisory Group and the Hornbill Species Survival Plan® Program currently manage
8 hornbill species in AZA-accredited institutions. Field biologists use hornbills as ecological
indicators of forest ecosystem health because the presence of hornbill species
suggests suitable habitat quality and sufficient food sources. AZA researchers are currently developing nesting
box materials for the ex situ
hornbills to encourage natural reproductive and nesting behaviors. AZA-accredited zoos are also participating with
regional conservation groups and sending molted hornbill feathers to countries
such as Indonesia
to reduce the number of birds that are hunted for their feathers.
||Hornbills vary in size, ranging from one foot
(black dwarf hornbill) to four feet (southern ground hornbill) in height. They
can weigh from 102 grams (black dwarf hornbill) up to 13.6 pounds (southern
||These birds typically have black, brown, grey, or
white plumage, and a brightly colored bill. The large, bony casque and a
lightweight but strong bill comprised of a dense covering over a sponge-like
||Their habitat extends from Africa south of the Sahara
through tropical Asia to the Philippines.
They live in dense lowland evergreen forests, savannas, or even arid
||Their diet in the wild consists primarily of fruit, but
also includes small mammals, lizards, snakes, and insects.
||Hornbills generally form monogamous pairs. They often
nest in holes or crevices, and seal off the entrance to the nest with mud,
fruit pulp, and droppings until the chicks are hatched. The females can lay up
to eight eggs.