Hornbills are a group of more than 50 species of birds found in subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia (western Pacific Ocean). All hornbills have a long, downward-curved bill with fused vertebrae in their necks, an adaptation thought to accommodate the bill’s size and weight.
The helmeted hornbill derives its name from the large upper mandible of its red and yellow bill, which has a distinctive head ‘casque’. This enlarged bill is used during ‘aerial jousting’ by males, where individuals collide in mid-air to make loud ‘clacks’ against each other’s casques. Jousts can be preceded by hitting or rubbing bills against branches of trees and loud calling, and can last up to two hours – this unique behaviour is likely motivated by competition for nesting sites and food resources.
Helmeted hornbills mate exclusively with one individual for a period that may extend to a number of years, making it likely that the loss of one hornbill directly affects the breeding success of the partner, thus posing a wider threat to the population than simply removing one individual.
*International Union for Conservation of Nature is the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species.
Data Not Available
Omnivorous – fruit, especially fruiting fig, and small animals
Natural cavities in trees and cliffs, in lowland forests
Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei
Helmeted hornbills are under threat due to a variety of factors; poaching for the casque, which is made from keratin – the same substance found in rhino horn and pangolin scales – and is sought after since it produces an ‘ivory’ that is in demand due to its suitability for fine carving work in Japanese miniature sculptures (netsuke) and in China, where it is used to make jewellery and decorative ornaments.
In addition to the illegal trade in its casques, the helmeted hornbill is also under threat from habitat loss, due to logging and land conversion for agriculture in Southeast Asia.