Saturday, March 27, 2010

Meet the Bar-pouched Hornbill

Is that a dinosaur? What is that thing? Does it bite?

These are the three questions I hear most often about our bar-pouches (Rhyticeros undulatus). Well, to be fair, that last question is the most frequently asked question about any zoo animal anywhere. The answers?

1.) No
2.) A hornbill
3.) Yes, but not often. Which is a good thing, because it would really hurt.

Guests are understandably curious about these big birds. After all, there are only something like six of them in the US, so most folks have never seen one before. And they really are remarkable. The males may weigh up to eight pounds, which is quite large for a bird! They are LOUD too, vocalizing with a sort of rough whining laugh, knocking and thumping with their beaks on wood or metal, and flying with an audible rush of wind through their giant wings.

In the wild they can be found in forests from north-eastern India through south-east Asia. They are omnivores, eating mostly fruit, but occasionally consuming some small animal-based protein. Their bills aren't quite as solid as they look, but are still quite a lot to carry on the end of their faces. For this reason all hornbills have their first two vertebrae fused, providing a more stable platform for their tremendous beaks.

Another odd thing about hornbills in general is the way in which they raise their young. The female enters a cavity in a cliff or a tree, prepares the area inside, and then begins to "mud up" the entry. When she's done there is only a narrow slit left, just big enough to for the male to pass food through. And that's just what he does, sometimes for months on end. It's quite a burden on him, since he has to feed his mate not only while she sits on the eggs, but also while the baby matures after hatching. And of course, he has to bring enough food to feed the new kid too! If you look closely at the photo at the left, you can just barely make out our female's beak poking out of the tiny slit near the top. Hopefully they'll have a baby this year. That would bring the total up to seven bar-pouched hornbills in the US!


  1. Wow, what an incredible bird & absolutely gorgeous! This was a very interesting read, thanks Corinna! I really hope your pair has a little one & can't wait to see pics when they do. :)

  2. Thanks Kim! I hope so too. Last year the eggs were too thin and broke. Hopefully this year they'll make it! Fingers crossed.

  3. Wow, thank you for writing this up. What an interesting read! Would love to see some babies. :)


  4. 7 in the US?? Let's hope for the baby bird!

    You have the best job...need an apprentice??

  5. Hehe what an interesting looking bird!!

  6. Oh he is BEAUTIFUL!! What do they sound like?


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