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This female Wreathed Hornbill is mainly a fruit eater. A bird of the rainforest, the hornbill is threatened with extinction due to loss of habitat.
Photo: Chris Johnson

April 29, 2001
Hornbills
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

There are striking parallels within the abundance of life, in both the oceanic and terrestrial habitats in this region of the world.

Southeast Asia is home to a remarkable array of bird species, in fact, the most diverse on Earth. With some 700 species occurring here in Papua New Guinea, it is no wonder this region is a mecca for bird watchers. Parrots, kingfishers and pigeons are among the more familiar and can be found in various sizes and colors. PNG is home to the largest pigeon, the crowned pigeon and the worlds smallest parrot, the pygmy parrot.

Probably the most widely recognized bird family in this region are the hornbills, or Kokomos, as they are known in Papua New Guinea. We have had several encounters with these birds, usually as wild animals that have chosen to live in the company of humans possibly because of the availability of food. Hornbills are viewed by the locals as being quite intelligent, with individuals described as having distinctly different personalities.

These birds are large and extremely impressive, the sound of their flight overhead is wonderful, the loud beating of the wings sounding almost like a steam train.

A male Wreathed Hornbill. Hornbills have been the focus of several research projects. There is still much to be learned about this fascinating bird.
Photo: Chris Johnson

But by far their most imposing feature is that massive bill, adorned by a characteristic casque. The number of ridges on the bill of the Wreathed Hornbill in the picture, we are told by locals, reveals the age of the bird.

The nesting habits of the hornbill are one of the most bizarre in nature. The male seals the female high up inside the hollow of a large tree, using feces, mud and regurgitated fruit as a kind of plaster. The female waits inside the nest, she will not leave until her eggs have hatched and the young are ready to fly. The attentive male returns to the nest to feed her as much as six or seven times a day, diligently resealing the opening to the nest at the conclusion of each visit.

Twenty species of hornbill occur in South East Asia, some are wide spread, others endemic to small areas, and several are in danger of extinction. Being a lowland rainforest species, these magnificent birds are extremely vulnerable to the rapid and furious clearing of their natural habitat. They depend without exception on the larger mature trees for nesting. Unfortunately it is these very trees found in old growth forest that are also the primary trees of choice for loggers.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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