The Rhinoceros Hornbill is an awe-inspiring bird species that inhabits the thick mountain rainforests of Southeast Asia. Recognized as one of the region’s most iconic birds, it impresses observers with its attention-grabbing casque – a stunning, hollow horn that extends from its upper bill.
What is the purpose of this casque, and how well is the Rhinoceros Hornbill equipped to survive in its natural habitat? These are great questions – and we have answers to even more questions.
Let’s learn about the fascinating Rhinoceros Hornbill!
Identifying the Rhinoceros Hornbill
First, here’s a video of the Rhinoceros Hornbill. Specifically, this is Stanley at the Nashville Zoo, playing catch! Very cool, right?
Note that unusual-looking horn that extends from the top of its bill – that is the casque. The casque serves a few purposes.
- Both sexes have a casque, which may be used to attract a mate.
- The casque amplifies the bird’s calls and songs, helping them to more effectively protect their territory.
- Some naturalists have observed that the casque may serve as a steadying support as they lean against a tree and break off large pieces of bark – or as they dig around in the dirt for insects.
How To Tell the Difference Between the Rhinoceros Hornbill and the Great Hornbill
There are several kinds of hornbills in the world. The Rhinoceros Hornbill and Great Hornbill have some overlapping territory, including Thailand. Although they both have large casques, they are quite easy to tell apart.
- Note that the Great Hornbill has a whitish neck, whereas the Rhinoceros Hornbill’s neck is all black
- The Great Hornbill’s wings have a white and yellow stripe, but the Rhinoceros Hornbill’s wings are solid black
- Both birds have very similar tails: long and white with a thick black bar near the base of the tail
- The casque of the Rhinoceros Hornbill protrudes upward, as opposed to the Great Hornbill’s casque, which is flatter against the bill
- The Rhinoceros Hornbill also has a yellow and red casque, but the Great Hornbill’s casque is just yellow
Watch this informative video to learn more about the differences between these two birds.
How Big Is the Rhinoceros Hornbill?
These are pretty big birds!
They can weigh up to 7.5 pounds and are often 3 feet long. Males are larger than females.
For North American readers who want to compare the size of a Rhinoceros Hornbill to birds they are more familiar with, here are some comparisons:
- Pelicans weigh up to 6.9 pounds
- The Greater Flamingo weighs between 4.4-8.8 pounds
- A female wild turkey weighs between 5-12 pounds
They aren’t record-breaking birds, by any means, but they are definitely big enough to be intimidating in the wild or even in captivity.
Is the Casque Heavy?
It certainly looks heavy!
But the casque is actually quite lightweight. It is made of keratin, the same kind of protein that gives us healthy hair. It is also supported by a hollow bone structure and is quite light, made of keratin, hollow cells, and supported by hollow bone.
The casque is not a burden for the hornbill.
Unique Breeding Behavior
Although the appearance of the Rhino Hornbill gets the most attention, we can’t ignore their fascinating breeding behavior, too.
They are cavity nesters, which means that they find a hole in a tree and turn that into a nest. Unlike other cavity-dwellers like woodpeckers and many ducks, the female Rhinoceros Hornbill almost completely seals herself into the tree. She uses mud, feces, and pieces of food to line her nest and hide herself and her eggs in the cavity.
She leaves a small opening where her mate can bring her food. This is the best way these birds have to keep their nests and their young safe from predators. The nest is both hidden and it might be unappealing to predators who have no interest in invading a nest full of feces.
Her 1-3 eggs incubate for about 3 months. Imagine 3 months in a tiny space with your eggs, completely dependent upon another bird to bring you food.
When they hatch, she knows it is time to leave the nest, so she breaks out of the cavity. Then, together with her mate, the two adults feed and care for the young until they can become independent.
Fledgling Rhinoceros Hornbills live in the nest for about 80 days before they are ready to go out on their own.
Do Rhinoceros Hornbills Mate for Life?
Yes, they do! Rhinoceros Hornbills, like other hornbills, are monogamous. They choose one mate for life.
Although they are part of a mated pair, they will also live in a group of about 25 other hornbills.
Where Do Rhinoceros Hornbills Live?
The Rhinoceros Hornbill lives in the dense rainforests of Southeast Asia. They live in tropical and subtropical climates, as well as in the mountains of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, Singapore, Southern Thailand, and the Malay Peninsula.
Sometimes they live in mangrove forests, too.
What Do Rhinoceros Hornbills Sound Like?
The Rhinocerous Hornbill’s call can be described as loud, trumpeting, and even haunting. The call can travel up to 1 kilometer away (about .62 miles), so hearing a hornbill doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s nearby.
You can hear recordings of the Rhinoceros Hornbill’s calls and songs here.
What Do Rhinoceros Hornbills Eat?
The hornbill is omniverous. The central staple of its diet is fruit, but it will also eat insects, small mammals, and reptiles.
Birds often play an important role in their ecosystems, and that is true for the Rhinoceros Hornbill, too. When they consume fruits, they swallow the whole thing, including the seed. Usually, the flesh of the fruit is digested, but the seed gets passed in the bird’s feces later.
This seed has just gotten a very high dose of nitrogen, making them even more likely to grow than seeds that fall on the ground on their own.
Do Rhinoceros Hornbills Migrate?
These birds are non-migratory, so they stay in one area for their entire lifetimes. They are sedentary unless they need to undertake a short journey in search of food or a better breeding location.
How Long Do Rhinoceros Hornbills Live?
In captivity, Rhinoceros Hornbills can live up to 35 years. Great Hornbills have lived to about 50 years old in the wild, so we can assume that Rhinoceros Hornbills probably have a similar lifespan in the wild.
Conservation Status & Efforts
The Rhinocerous Hornbill is listed by the IUCN as “nearly threatened.” The IUCN Redlist explains: “A taxon is Near Threatened (NT) when it has been evaluated against the criteria but does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable now, but is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.”
The Rhinocerous Hornbill is in this category because of habitat loss and overhunting. They are one of the species affected by the popularity of palm oil.
If you want to get involved in protecting this gorgeous and unusual bird, you can do the following:
- Reduce your use of palm oil, which is in many of the products we use, including food, candy, shampoo, lipstick, and toothpaste
- Support organizations that advocate for the conservation of birds
- Get involved in the climate protection movement
A Quick Re-cap of the Facts!
Want a quick “cheat sheet” of facts about the Rhinoceros Hornbill? Here you go!
- That big horn on their bill is called a casque
- The casque is made from keratin and hollow bones
- Their loud call can be heard up to a kilometer away
- They’re big! Up to 7.5 pounds
- They can live up to 35 years in captivity and may be able to live up to 50 years in the wild
- Their diet mostly consists of fruit, but they will also eat insects, small mammals, and small reptiles
- The Rhinoceros Hornbill is monogamous, and pairs remain together for their lifetimes
- Females enclose themselves in a tree cavity that is lined with mud and feces
- Males feed them through a tiny opening in the cavity, and they only leave after their eggs hatch
- The Rhinoceros Hornbill spreads seeds throughout the ecosystem
- They are “nearly threatened” because of hunting, landscape destruction, and palm oil farming
We hope you have enjoyed learning about the Rhinoceros Hornbill!
We find that its unique characteristics, stunning appearance, and crucial role in the rainforest ecosystem make it a creature worthy of both admiration and conservation efforts. By appreciating and protecting this iconic bird, we contribute to its continued existence and the preservation of Southeast Asia’s natural heritage.
Where To See the Rhinoceros Hornbill
If you want to see the Rhinoceros Hornbill in person, there are several zoos that have these animals on display for the public. These zoos include: