Holistic Help for Hornbills

Ain't love grand? Once courtship and mating are over, the female hornbill finds a tree hollow and seals herself in with dung, fruit and pellets of mud.

I love our hornbills. Situated in the Rainforest section of the Zoo, between our gibbons and our chimps, they are often overlooked, yet I find them fascinating.

The female has the bright blue gular pouch (an expandable throat sac, used for short-term storage of food) and the male has the pale yellow version.  Like all hornbills, they have a distinctively large and down-turned beak.  These Malayan Wreathed Hornbills are one of the 54 species found in Asia and Africa.

Their dramatic nesting ritual is what makes them so interesting. Once courtship and mating are over, the female finds a tree hollow and seals herself in with dung, fruit and pellets of mud. The male gathers the pellets from the forest floor and swallows them, later regurgitating small saliva-cased building materials. He then gives them to the female who stays inside the nest leaving a slit for a window big enough to receive food and materials. For the next 6-8 weeks the male feeds the female through this opening. She does not emerge until she has molted and re-grown fresh feathers and her young has grown and become feathered, as well. Then, both mother and child knock down the wall and appear on the scene, happy and healthy. Last year the public was enthralled, as our hornbills participated in this ritual.

The zoo is concerned with the status of hornbills in the wild, and since 2004, the Oakland Zoo Conservation Fund has worked with a fantastic program coordinated by the Hornbill Research Foundation. Besides collecting data, the foundation has launched a Hornbill Nest Adoption Program, which works to foster conservation of these beautiful birds. Illegal logging and the poaching of young birds for the pet trade are the key issues facing hornbills. The Nest Adoption Program employs local people to look after the hornbills in their nests and collect scientific data about them.


When you adopt a nest, you get a wonderful pamphlet of information about the hornbill, a map of the location of your particular nest, a profile of your guard and, my favorite, a break down of what food the male brought to the female (2 figs, .3 millipedes, 1 lizard).

This summer, eighteen Oakland Zoo teens and staff will embark on a journey to visit Thailand and will spend a day at Khao Yai National Park with the intention hope to spot birds, nests and learn first hand about the project.  They will also visit with the Young Bird Conservation Club, which creates Hornbill art to sell to zoos for their Conservation Projects. To prepare for their trip, these inspired have been attending workshops and raising funds to adopt two nests of their own.

Back at the zoo, the summer will be filled with more hornbill conservation action as ZooCamp 2009 has adopted the species as their official summer animal. With a hornbill on the front of their t-shirt and the Hornbill Research Foundation logo on the back, all campers will be learning about this animal and the project that supports them. Each camper has also contributed a bit of their camp fee into the program and will surely leave camp with the contribution of knowledge and compassion for these incredible birds.

Come by and visit our hornbills, join us this summer at ZooCamp ,or adopt a nest yourself (http://www.zoo.org/conservation/hornbill.html).

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