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What is a Great Hornbill?

Anna T.
Anna T.

The great hornbill is the largest in the hornbill family of birds. These birds may grow to be between 2 and 3 feet tall (61 cm and 1 m) and can weigh as much as 7 pounds (3 kg). The most distinguishing feature of the great hornbill may be the yellow-colored casque that sits on the head, acting as a sound amplifier as well as a sign of sexual maturity. Great hornbills are normally black in color with a few white strips and a bright yellow curved beak. Females normally have white eye irises, while the males tend to have red irises.

In the wild, the great hornbill is usually found living in the rainforests of China, India, and parts of southeastern Asia. They prefer to live in the canopy of the trees, spending their days searching for food. These birds are omnivorous and eat fruit as well as small mammals, snakes, and lizards. Fruits tend to make up the largest part of a great hornbill's diet, and this is why these birds are believed to play an important part in the survival of the rainforest. After eating fruit, these birds disburse the uneaten seeds across the forest floor, which can result in new vegetative growth essential to the survival of the rainforest and the animals in it.


The great hornbill typically keeps one mate for life. During breeding season, males generally fight each other and perform flying tricks in the air to attract the attention of the female bird. Eggs are usually laid inside a hollowed out tree during the early part of each year, and both the male and female work to build an enclosure out of food and feces that helps block the nesting area from view of predators. Most females lay no more than two eggs, which remain inside the nesting area for about four months before they are ready to leave. The female great hornbill stays with her chicks until they leave the nest and allows the male to bring her food every day that is fed to her through a tiny opening in the nesting enclosure.

Most great hornbills are capable of living up to 35 years but do not typically survive for that long in the wild. The destruction of the rainforest may be taking a great toll on their numbers, and they are also frequently hunted and trapped for their feathers and for trading purposes. There are currently many programs in place to protect the species, including payment to local people in Thailand for helping to guard their nests from harm. Many zoos worldwide are also trying to increase the numbers of the species through captive breeding.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Great Hornbill?

The Great Hornbill, also known as Buceros bicornis, is a large bird native to the forests of Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It's known for its impressive size, reaching up to 130 cm in length, and its striking casque atop a massive bill. This bird plays a crucial role in forest ecology as a seed disperser.

What does the Great Hornbill eat?

Great Hornbills are omnivores with a diet that includes fruits, especially figs, and small animals such as insects, small mammals, and birds. Their foraging habits contribute to seed dispersal, which is vital for forest regeneration. They use their large bills to pluck fruit and catch prey.

How does the Great Hornbill's casque function?

The casque on a Great Hornbill's bill is a hollow structure made of keratin. While its exact function is not fully understood, it is believed to play a role in mating displays and rituals, as well as being a resonating chamber to amplify their calls through the dense forest.

What is the conservation status of the Great Hornbill?

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Great Hornbill is currently listed as Vulnerable. Habitat loss and hunting for their casques and meat have led to a decline in their population. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect these magnificent birds and their forest habitats.

How do Great Hornbills reproduce?

Great Hornbills have a unique breeding behavior where the female seals herself inside a tree cavity using her feces and mud, leaving only a small slit through which the male feeds her and, later, the chicks. This nesting process, which can last up to 4 months, protects the eggs and young from predators.

Can Great Hornbills fly despite their size?

Yes, Great Hornbills are capable fliers despite their large size and heavy bills. They have a wingspan that can exceed 150 cm, allowing them to glide effortlessly through the forest canopy. The sound of their wings flapping is often described as a loud whooshing noise, audible from a distance.

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