Hornbills are a family of bird.
There are approximately 55 species of hornbills.
Hornbills are found in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia.
They live in forests, rain forests, or savannas, depending on species.
Hornbills show considerable variation in size. The smallest species is the black dwarf hornbill, at 99 g (3.5 oz) and 32 cm (1 foot) in length. The largest and most massive species appears to be the southern ground hornbill which has an average weight of 3.8 kg (8.3 lb), and can weigh up to 6.3 kg (14 lb) and span about 180 cm (6 feet) across the wings.
Hornbills have a long tail, broad wings, and white and black, brown, or gray feathers. This contrasts with the brightly colored neck, face, bill, and casque in many species. Females and males often have different colored faces and eyes.
The most distinctive feature of the hornbills is the heavy bill, supported by powerful neck muscles as well as by the fused vertebrae. The large bill assists in fighting, preening, constructing the nest, and catching prey.
A feature unique to the hornbills is the casque, a hollow structure that runs along the upper mandible. In some species it is barely perceptible and appears to serve no function beyond reinforcing the bill.
Several species, including the striking Rhinoceros hornbill, possess a brightly coloured beak and casque. This striking coloration is the result of the bird rubbing its beak and casque against the preen gland beneath the tail, which stimulates the production of an oily orange-red fluid that adds a
reddish tone to these parts.
The casque of the helmeted hornbill from Borneo is different from all other hornbill species: its dense, ivory-like casque makes up about 10 percent of the bird’s body weight! Unfortunately, this has made it attractive to native islanders who kill the birds to use the heavy casques for ornamental
Hornbills are diurnal, generally travelling in pairs or small family groups. Larger flocks sometimes form outside the breeding season. The largest assemblies of hornbills form at some roosting sites, where as many as 2400 individual birds may be found.
Southern ground hornbill booms are so loud they are sometimes mistaken for the roaring of lions.
Often the first sign of an approaching hornbill is the rhythmic chuffing sound made by their wings as they fly through the air, which can be heard at long range.
Hornbills generally form monogamous pairs, although some species engage in cooperative breeding.
The female hornbill lays her eggs in a hole in a tree. Then, helped by her mate, she seals herself in, covering the entrance with droppings and mud. Only a small slit is left, through which the male gives her food. This keeps the nest safe from snakes until the chicks are grown enough to leave the nest, and learn how to fly.
Both the common English and the scientific name of the family refer to the shape of the bill, “buceros” being “cow horn” in Greek.
The beaks of toucans and hornbills are an example of what scientists call convergent evolution. While hornbills live in Africa and Asia, toucans live in Central and South America. Essentially, hornbills and toucans adapted to their different environments in the same way, developing similar traits. That makes them appear related.
Their closest relatives are kingfishers, rollers, and bee-eaters.
Hornbills have developed some interesting relationships with other animals. Eastern yellow-billed hornbills work with dwarf mongooses to gather food! The mongooses wait for the hornbills to arrive before setting out – if the hornbills arrive before the mongooses are up and about, the birds call down the mongooses’ burrow. Why? The hornbills benefit by eating all the insects stirred up by the foraging mongooses, and the mongooses gain extra eyes and ears to look out for danger.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species notes that the overwhelming majority of hornbills are not in danger of becoming extinct.
A hornbill named Zazu is the king’s adviser and one of the characters in The Lion King franchise, voiced by Rowan Atkinson in the animated version and John Oliver in the live action version.
The Rhinoceros hornbill is the official state animal of Sarawak, a Malaysian state located in Borneo.
The great hornbill, is the official state bird of Kerala, an Indian state.