Great hornbill

They’re amazingly human-friendly — oh, but do we call it a friendship if we cost their population the chance to survive

Angadachappa

It stands as a majestic icon of Southeast Asian forests, renowned for its impressive size, distinctive casque atop its massive bill, and resonant calls that echo through the canopy. Yet, perhaps even more remarkable than its appearance is this magnificent bird’s complex social and reproductive behavior.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Great Hornbill behavior is their nesting habits. Unlike many other bird species, female Great Hornbills take extraordinary measures to protect their nest and offspring. Before laying their eggs, the female seals herself inside the nest cavity using a mixture of mud, droppings, and food remains, leaving only a narrow slit through which the male can pass food. This remarkable behavior protects the vulnerable eggs and chicks from predators during the critical early stages of their lives—a testament to the lengths to which hornbills will go to ensure the survival of their offspring.

The division of parental responsibilities between male and female Great Hornbills is equally impressive. While the female remains inside the nest cavity to incubate the eggs and care for the chicks, the male takes on the crucial role of providing food. With his strong bill and keen hunting skills, the male gathers a variety of prey items, including worms, insects, small birds, and fruits, which he carries back to the nest and delivers to the waiting female and chicks—a remarkable display of cooperation and partnership.

However, despite their remarkable adaptations and behaviors, Great Hornbills face significant threats to their survival. Illegal hunting for their casques and loss of habitat due to deforestation and human encroachment have led to alarming population declines. As a result, the species is now classified as “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with an estimated global population of only 13,000 to 27,000 mature individuals—a sobering reminder of the urgent need for conservation action to protect these magnificent birds.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Bangladesh
2020
Bhutan
2020
Cambodia
2020
China
2020
India
2020
Indonesia
2020
Laos
2020
Malaysia
2020
Myanmar
2020
Nepal
2020
Thailand
2020
Vietnam
2020

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Flock

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No