© 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.

Hornbill Facts

Status Near Threatened
Size 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 ground hornbill).
Appearance 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 cellular tissue.
Habitat 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 environments.
Diet Their diet in the wild consists primarily of fruit, but also includes small mammals, lizards, snakes, and insects.
Breeding 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.