Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chasing Hornbills

Hey guys!

We decided to go up to Genting Highlands (for the benefit of non-Malaysian readers, that's a theme park and casino located on top of a mountain) over the weekend...well actually the Australian Cousin really wanted to go. Personally I'm not a big fan of theme-parks, as I've said it before, I'll say it again, roller coasters take away years from my life expectancy but well, an outing with the cousins is always fun in itself. The park was pretty much the same way it looked when I last went there some 6 years ago although they did add a couple of new rides and a "parrot-walk" section. I was originally planning to bring my butterfly net/jars to go hunting for butterflies around the area (they are usually quite abundant in the highlands) but it was just as well that I didn't, there was nothing there! On the way down though, by cable car I managed to witness a rather magnificent sight.
A dark silhouette in the sky

It started off with a loud noise, which immediately made me think of geese (for some reason) followed by a large dark silhouette plummeting from the sky in a flurry of feathers. My initial thoughts were "EAGLE!!!" rather the swoop of an eagle as it picked off an animal from the rainforest canopy but as the bird settled on the branches of a rather tall tree I was quite surprised to see, instead, what it really was. The dark feathers were unmistakeable, its upright posture recogniseable, but what really gave it away was the splash of brilliant colours that formed the marvelous casque of Malaysia's Rhinoceros Hornbill. And there was not just one, but two! I articulated my astonishment which resulted in the clamouring of the other tourists for a look at this strange and mysterious creature, seldom seen in the wild.
The Rhinoceros Hornbill (Buceros Rhinoceros)
The Rhinoceros Hornbill is truly an astonishing creature. With its large size and horned beak, it almost seems to suggest an animal out of the period of dinosaurs rather than something which lives in our time, and yet, perhaps what is most astounding is perhaps the courtship and nesting behaviours of the birds. In courtship, male hornbills often have to go to strenous lenghts to prove his worth to the female thus sealing a bond of trust between the pair as the female has to rely on the male to provide her with everything during the incubation and raising of the chicks.

Courting pair

You see, once the pair has mated the female then proceeds to lay her eggs in the hollow cavity of a tree. Once inside, the male begins to imprison her, forming a wall around the entrance to the nest leaving but a small opening which the male uses to pass food to the female in order to raise the young. Once inside, the female often goes through a moult and looses most of her feathers, why they do this, I have no idea but this means that, should the male abandon the female during anytime of the chick-rearing process she will not only be unable to escape from her maternal prison, even if she could her feathers would be ill-equipped to protect her from the elements. Now that's trust for you! Fortunately males seldom abandon their mates and the only reason this happens is often because males are often caught, hunted or killed by predators.

Male feeding female in nest.
Considered a "near threatened" species by the IUCN, . The "horn" of the Rhinoceros Hornbills is called a casque, a decorative overgrowth on the Hornbill's beak that is made out of keratin (similar to the substance that makes our hair and fingernails) and is the reason for the population decline of wild hornbills as they are often hunted for this precious "golden jade".

To Malaysians, this bird possesess some cultural significance. Generally accepted as the natural bird of Malaysia its likeness often graces many tourism advertisements promoting the country and is even featured prominently in the state crest of Sarawak where many of the natives consider the bird to be a manifestation of their War God, "Singalang Burong". Personally, I just feel that they are like many of Mother Nature's wonderful creations a great addition to the already rich biodiversity of our country and yet another pressing reason to preserve the rainforests which are so abundant and yet, are getting lesser and lesser every day.


The 7th said...

sorry for that,check this out and do join us if you want :)

Nature Rambles said...

I've only seen them in a nature reserve as they flew past. Love the close shot and the courting pair. Also the courting details are interesting. I knew about the female being sealed but losing the feathers was something I didn't know. Great post!