Sunday, July 12, 2015

The magnificent hornbills of Sarawak

The hornbills are a family of bird which can be found in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia. Hornbills are distinctive from other birds’ species due to its massive ‘double-storey’ bill consisting of a long, deep beak with a projection known as a casque on top.

The large bills are known to assist in fighting, preening, constructing the nest and catching prey. Hornbills usually have large heads, thin necks, broad wings and long tail feathers.

Being known as the Land of the Hornbills, Sarawak is home to eight out of 54 species of hornbills in the world. Oriental-pied hornbill, Black hornbill, Bushy-crested hornbill, White-crowned hornbill, Rhinoceros hornbill, Helmeted hornbill, Wrinkled hornbill and Wreathed hornbill are hornbill species that can be found in Sarawak. Black, oriental-pied, rhinoceros and wreathed hornbills are four most prominent hornbill species in the State.

Most hornbills are found in Totally Protected Areas (TPAs) in Sarawak. Hornbill habitats are protected by the establishment of national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. Piasau Nature Reserve, Gunong Mulu National Park, Tanjung Datu National Park and Batang Ai National Park are among places where hornbills are frequently spotted in Sarawak.

Hornbills are primary frugivorous with figs predominant in their diet, but they also feed on insects and small animals. As their tongues are too short, they cannot swallow food caught at the tip of their beak, so they toss their food from the tip of their beaks back to their throats while eating. They are considered to be important seed dispersers in the forest.

Hornbill breeding biology is remarkable. The male hornbill begins courting the female by bringing her food a month or more before mating. When the time comes to lay eggs, the female will enter a nest hole in a hollow tree. The pair will then spend two or three days plastering up the hole with the female’s dropping, with the female on the inside and the male on the outside.

The female and chicks then rely on the male to collect and deliver food through the small hole. Once the nestlings have gotten their first feathers, the female will break out of the chamber and join her mate in providing food for their young. Hornbills are also known to be collective and they generally travel in pairs, small family groups and sometimes in larger flocks. They pair for life and bond to defend against other members of their species. This helps to ensure adequate food supply as well as “exclusive rights” to nesting sites.

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