Love and Courtship of The Great Hornbills

The dry season is well set in here on Langkawi Island, this very dry weather triggers the plants into flower which is then followed by the fruiting season and then the seeding season. And with the seeds come the early rains arrive once again to germinate those seeds and to begin the greening processes once again. Throughout this period there are plenty of insects, flowers, fruit and seeds available, so plenty of food for the insectivorous, nectarines and insectivorous. So many birds choose this time on the island to nest because when babies are here there a lot of food to support them.

I have been privileged to witness the courtship and nesting behavior of the Great Hornbills many times. I remember once in early January some years ago I spend several days witnessing the courtship. In a flock of about 25 birds 3 males (mature at year 5) were fighting each other for a young female. Beaks clashing, push and pull sometimes falling off the tree in a wrestle, to be the only ones to offer food to her. They carry food mostly fruit in their gular pouch, pushing and fighting for this opportunity. Eventually she makes a choice for life and takes the food only from the male she wants. She does not accept any more fruit from the other males and these other males soon lose interest. This activity went on for over 8 days. it is an amazing event especially the loud calls and clashing sounds of the beaks.

As we come closer to the nesting season we see lots of beak rubbing (bonding) and fruit passing between the new pairs and older pairs, this is referred to as conditioning, in preparation for their nesting. Their nest is a large hollow in a large emergent tree usually more than 10 meters off the ground. She enters this hollow and if she approves of it, she begins to plaster herself in. she uses the pulp of regetulated fruit and gently plaster the opening until a small slit is left, enough for her beak to stick out. She remains in this cavity for about 8 to 9 weeks and throughout that period her mate for life will fly off and return every half, one or two hour intervals with room service, mostly fruit (70%) but sometimes little lizards, little snakes, insects, young of other nesting birds and once I even saw him bring her a little squirrel.

This is why they do a lot of fruit passing before nesting because sometimes the male has to fly a long way to find food and to not get it right when he passes it to her through the tight opening sometimes from an awkward position. If they did not get this right and they lose fruit in that process she and baby (only one egg and one baby per chance per year) could go hungry. 8 or 9 weeks later the young is now stronger, can protect its own self and the accommodation is too now too small for the growing young and mum, she breaks out, now both parents feed their young until about 4 weeks later when it is time for the young to break out and join its parents and be trained for about 7 ½ months before it time to for the young to be left with the other new arrivals and sub adults of previous years.

Other than the Hornbills the White-bellied Sea Eagles, the Crimson Sunbird, Dark-necked Tailorbird, and Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, Dollarbird are also nesting right now.
I can not wait to see their new born. I will keep you posted.

Happy birding
Irshad Mobarak