Great hornbill

Great Hornbill [Buceros bicornis]: Discovering its World

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Scientific Classification

AnimaliaChordataAvesBucerotiformesBucerotidaeBucerosBuceros bicornis

Great Hornbill

Great hornbill is a large bird that ranges in length from 95 to 130 cm (37 to 51 in), has a wingspan of 152 cm (60 in), and weighs between 2 and 4 kg (4.4 to 8.8 lb). Three girls weigh an average of 2.59 kg (5.7 lb), whereas the average weight of seven males is 3 kg (6.6 lb).

It may not be the longest, but it is the heaviest Asian hornbill. Reduced in size, the females have pinkish orbital skin and bluish-white eyes rather than the red ones seen in the males. Like their hornbill counterparts, they have unique “eyelashes.

Also referred to as the concave-casqued hornbill, great Indian hornbill, or great pied hornbill, the (Buceros bicornis),

Great Hornbill


  • Distribution: Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia
  • Diet: Predominantly frugivorous, also preys on small mammals, reptiles, and birds
    • Conservation Status: Vulnerable (IUCN Red List since 2018)
  • Lifespan: Nearly 50 years in captivity
    • Cultural Significance: Important in tribal cultures and rituals; declared the official state bird of Kerala
  • Distinctive Feature: Bright yellow and black casque on a massive bill
    • Casque Characteristics: U-shaped appearance, concave top, with ridges forming points in the front
  • Casque Color: Reddish in females, black in males
    • Casque Function: Thought to result from sexual selection; males engage in aerial casque butting
  • Preen Gland Secretion: Yellow secretion spread by males onto feathers and bill for coloration
    • Beak Commissure: Black with a serrated edge, worn with age
  • Flight Characteristics: Heavy wing beats producing a sound likened to a starting steam locomotive
    • Flight Style: Involves stiff flaps followed by glides with splayed and upcurled fingers
  • Anatomy: Highly pneumatized bones with hollow air cavities extending to wing tips; noted by Richard Owen in 1833 at the Zoological Society of London.

Species in same Genus

SpeciesCommon Name
Buceros hydrocoraxRufous Hornbill
Buceros rhinocerosRhinoceros Hornbill
Buceros vigilSulu Hornbill
Buceros mindanensisMindanao Hornbill
Buceros everettiSumba Hornbill
Buceros bengalensisRufous-necked Hornbill
Buceros vigil vigilPalawan Hornbill
Buceros mindanensis mindanensisLuzon Hornbill
Buceros rhinoceros silvestrisEnggano Hornbill
Buceros bengalensis sylvaticusIndian Subcontinent Hornbill


Carl Linnaeus named the great hornbill in 1758, and it was assigned to the genus Buceros. Using the binomial name Buceros bicornis, Linnaeus identified the species as existing in China. The bird’s unique traits are reflected in the genus name, which is derived from the Latin “becerus,”

which means “horned like an ox.” The Latin word “bicornis” means “two-horned.” There are no recognized subspecies of this monotypic species. Although there were once distinctions such as cavatus and homrai,it is now generally accepted that there are variations, primarily in size, among various groups.

Great Hornbill

Distribution and Habitat

Southeast Asia, Sumatra, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and other woods are home to Buceros bicornis. Sadly, the area it once had is now decreased due to destruction, particularly in areas like the Kolli hills in India. These are the birds that require large rainforests and prefer dense, unspoiled woods

in steep places. When breeding, male hornbills in Thailand maintain a home range of approximately 3.7 km (2.3 km), and when they are not breeding, it is approximately 14.7 km (9.1 mi). To get further insight into their diverse populations, scientists are employing molecular techniques.

Food and Feeding

When they are around fruit-bearing trees, they tend to congregate in small groups, though they do occasionally form larger ones. Remarkably, large groups consisting of 150 to 200 birds have been documented in several parts of southeast Bhutan.

These birds eat primarily fruits in the wild, with figs playing a major part in their diet. More important food sources include Vitex altissima and lipid-rich fruits from the Lauraceae and Myristicaceae groups, such as Persea, Alseodaphne, and Myristica.

The fruits they eat provide them with their only source of water. They are important in the spread of seeds for many kinds of forest trees. They also eat tiny animals, birds, reptiles, insects, and other things in addition to fruits.

They hop, scan the area for possible prey, and exhibit behaviors like removing bark to uncover insects as they investigate branches for food. They hunt by catching their prey, throwing it into the air, and then devouring it.

Interestingly, they have been observed eating critically endangered species, such as the Travancore flying squirrel. In addition, in areas such as the Western Ghats, they eat birds, such as the Sri Lanka green pigeon, the Indian scops owl, and the jungle owlet.

Great Hornbill


They vocalize more during the breeding season, which runs from January to April. Their fondness for old, huge, and tall trees—especially those with emergents that are taller than the canopy—is seen in their preference for mature woods as nesting sites.

The Buceros bicornis forms monogamous pair bonds and lives in small groups of two to forty. Remarkably, complex displays of courtship have been documented involving as many as 20 birds. The hornbill female builds her nest in a large hollow in a tree trunk,

and she seals the opening with a plaster made mostly of excrement. Until the chicks reach half development, she is confined during this time and depends on the male for food. A full molt occurs at the same time for the female. The young chicks are fat and lack feathers.

One or two eggs are often found in a clutch, which is incubated for 38–40 days. The mother is fed through a slot in the seal. Both the mom and the chicks begin to eliminate their waste through the nest slit at two weeks of age. The chicks immediately seal the nest after the female leaves.

They do not have a casque when they are young. Over the course of the next five years, their development proceeds through discrete stages, and by the time they reach full maturity, they have a transverse crescent form with edges that grow upward and outward.

Breeding Vocalizations

The male will beat out a rhythmic “kok” roughly once a second, while the female will also join in on loud duets. This quickly changes to a snarl mixed with barking.

Great Hornbill


Birds who have established daily schedules and travel large distances to arrive promptly at nightfall often use the resting areas. There are a few tall trees nearby that can be used as roosts, and the birds usually prefer the topmost branches with the thinnest foliage.

There’s a notable competition for locations among the birds till late in the evening. When at rest, they retract their necks to retain their bills at an upward angle.


  • Deforestation, the main culprit behind habitat destruction for great hornbills, imperils their existence.
  • The majestic bird is targeted for its meat, fat, and coveted body parts such as tail feathers and casque for ornamental purposes.
  • Indigenous communities, including Native Americans, hunt the Indian hornbill, utilizing various body parts.
  • Heads and beaks are fashioned into magical charms, while the flesh, especially from young birds, is esteemed as a delicacy believed to have healing properties.
  • Declines in population, notably in regions like Cambodia, have been observed.
  • Skulls serve as ornaments, and hornbill feathers are integrated into headdresses by tribesmen in northeastern India.
  • A myth among the Sema Nagas links consuming hornbill flesh to foot sores, a condition believed to parallel the bird’s experience.
  • During traditional dances with hornbill feathers, people avoid eating vegetables, as it is thought to induce similar foot sores.


The IUCN Red List has listed the great hornbill as Vulnerable since 2018, and it is listed in CITES Appendix I. Conservation efforts are being made to provide tribes with ceramic casques and feathers from captive hornbills as a substitute for those found in the wild.

Great Hornbill

In Captivity

Only a small number of hornbills are maintained as captives, and their attempts to procreate in captivity are usually unsuccessful. The majority of birds captured in the wild are female, and they are quite easy to capture, particularly during the nesting season.

It has proven very difficult to breed in captivity; less than a dozen successful reproduction cases have been reported. The Buceros bicornis’ intricate breeding management is further enhanced by the development of robust and durable pair bonds and their stringent mate selection criteria.

A balanced diet that emphasizes a predilection for fruits combined with an additional source of protein is typically provided to great hornbills kept in captivity by mixing meat and fruits. Some have reportedly been tamed, but even so, their behavior while confined is said to be quite tense.

Captive specimens frequently sunbathe, a habit that is distinguished by the unusual way in which their wings are extended.

In culture

Named “homrai” in Nepal and “banrao” in Mussoorie, respectively, which both mean “King of the Jungle,” the great hornbill is the official state bird of Kerala and Arunachal Pradesh in India.

Great Hornbill

Use as a Symbol

The Bombay Natural History Society named their building after a large hornbill called William, who also inspired the design of their emblem. Walter Samuel Millard’s death in 1920 was described by Norman Kinnear in an obituary as the “office canary,” who spent 26 years in a cage

behind Millard’s chair in Phipson & Co.’s office before dying from what was believed to be a piece of wire. Though wire-related causes of death were suspected, William had previously consumed a lit cigar without incident, therefore some speculated that the death was primarily caused by the demise of its lifelong friend.

Common Names in Different Languages

LanguageCommon Name
EnglishGreat Hornbill
MalayalamMalabar Pied Hornbill
TamilAndaman Kulakai
TeluguPeddavankaya Annam
KannadaMalenada Geddasa
AssameseBordo Dhel
MalayRangkong Gading
ThaiNok Hang Hok
BurmeseHtanaung Gwin
IndonesianRangkong Gading
VietnameseCu Gai
KhmerKukor Krabey
LaoNok Hok Yai



What is a Great Hornbill?

Southeast Asian woodlands are home to the big and recognizable Buceros bicornis. It is renowned for its remarkable beauty, enormous size, and noticeable casque on its bill.

Where do they live?

They live in the thick woods of Southeast Asia, the Indonesian archipelago, and the Indian subcontinent. Tropical forests, both lowland and hilly, are usually home to them.

What do they eat?

They mostly eat fruits, but they also occasionally eat insects, small mammals, birds, and reptiles. As seed dispersers, they are crucial to the ecosystem of forests.

Are Great Hornbills kept as pets?

Because of their unique nutritional and environmental requirements, it is discouraged and even illegal to keep Buceros bicornis as pets. Their natural habitat is the ideal place for them to live.

How big do Buceros bicornis get?

Large birds, They can grow to a length of 3.3 to 4 feet (100 to 122 cm) as adults. Their wingspan is approximately five feet (152 cm), and they have a characteristic casque on top of their bill.

What is the purpose of the casque on a them?

The bird’s sounds are thought to be amplified by the casque, which also controls body temperature and may be involved in courtship displays.

Are Buceros bicornis endangered?

Although their conservation status varies, habitat degradation and hunting are the main causes of their general near-threatened status. There are conservation initiatives in place to save their populations.

Do they migrate?

They does not migrate across great distances and is usually stationary. However, elements like food availability and breeding seasons can have an impact on their movements.

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