Return of the Hornbills

Do you know that the Oriental Pied Hornbill(Anthracoceros albirostris convexus), once thought to be extinct in Singapore, has made a comeback? This magnificent, large bird, distinguished by its large down-curved bill that is big and often brightly coloured, is one of possibly three hornbill species native to Singapore. Helped by artificial nestboxes, which are put up as part of the Singapore Hornbill Project, it is re-establishing colonies in Singapore, with 40-50 of them found on Pulau Ubin.

After successes in breeding wild and captive birds, we decided to introduce a pair of captive bred hornbills to a site in the Bukit Timah area, the first time this would be done on mainland. The following chronicles the birth of two young chicks and their successful fledging from the nest.

December 2008
An aviary was constructed on site. We also installed an artificial nestbox within the aviary, fitted with infra-red video cameras inside and outside. A breeding pair of hornbills from Jurong Bird Park was then released. The female sealed herself inside the nestbox, while the male kept vigil outside and brought food to her.


Workers installing the aviary

The male kept vigil outside while the female underwent “confinement” in the nestbox.

January - February 2009
The female laid four eggs. After an incubation period of 29 days, only two eggs were hatched. There have been reports of infant cannibalism in hornbills where the mother would kill the weakest chick and either eat it herself or feed it to the remaining chicks. We were relieved that this did not occur with our chicks.

11 February 2009
We released the male bird from the aviary into the wild, the first time it would experience true freedom. This was a big risk - if the male flew off and abandoned its family, the project would not succeed. There was great relief when the male returned to feed his family a few hours later.

The male flying out in the wild searching for food

20 February 2009
Danger came in the form of a 2.5m long python which coiled itself around the nestbox. The female used its beak to poke at the python whenever it came close. Thankfully, the predator slid away.


A 2.5m long python trying to get a free lunch by coiling itself around the nestbox

3 April 2009
After 98 days of “confinement”, both mother and chicks finally emerged from the nestbox and the whole family is now free to fly around in the wild at the introduction site.


Mum & dad cajoling their chicks to come out of the nestbox

This is an encouraging start to the introduction and breeding of the Oriental Pied Hornbills in mainland Singapore. We would like to acknowledge the efforts of all who were involved in the Singapore Hornbill Project, and we hope the Oriental Pied hornbills will continue to thrive well.

By Koh Soon Kiong

Total Comments: 2

Kim 4/18/2014 10:10:41 PM

It must be heart-warming to see the young family taking off into the wild. Hope that they were tagged and can be monitored to ensure their safety and survival.

Shivkumar 1/20/2014 12:21:47 PM

Really fascinating and good to hear they are back. Hope that they breed and flourish in this enviorment and increase thier numbers. Would appreciate N Park, Wild Life and other members in this project who made this happen. Cheers!

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