Oriental Pied Hornbills in urban Singapore

posted in: Hornbills | 17

Once upon a time, there were three species of hornbills present in Singapore. However, due to rapid development and large-scale deforestation, all three species became extinct in the late 19th century.

One species, the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris convexus), has made a comeback. There are many of this bird in the offshore island of Pulau Ubin. The original nucleus probably arrived years ago from nearby Johor, Malaysia. On mainland Singapore they are also present, probably originating from a pair of escapees. These birds have now established themselves and are actively breeding.

Many sightings have been reported from mainland Singapore during the last few years, from areas around Kent Ridge, Bukit Timah, Sembawang, Seletar, etc. They often visit urban gardens, foraging for fruits like rambutans and figs. In most cases the birds were shy, flying off when approached.

This year alone there have been a number of sightings. In January, Fuhai Heng saw a family group comprising father, mother and a juvenile in Sembawang. In February, Johnny Wee encountered one feasting on rambutan fruits in Yio Chu Kang Gardens. And Angie Ng saw her pair in an angsana tree (Pterocarpus indicus) next to Changi Meridian Hotel. Similarly Goh Si Guim encountered a pair during his nature walk, examining a cavity in a pulai tree (Alstonia sp.). This pair was obviously looking for a sutitable nesting hole. Also in February, Vilma d’Rozario’s colleague Angelia spotted one flying across the Pan Island Expressway, along that stretch between Eng Neo and Bukit Timah exits. James Heng similarly saw a bird in Upper Seletar Reservoir.

Reporting from Binjai Park, Marisa Keller wrote in saying that the bird was commonly seen around her neighbourhood. She first sighted two birds in July 2005, some juveniles on 15th October and three birds on 30th October. Marisa says: “In the 13 years I live here I never saw or heard a Pied Hornbill.”

Our bird specialist R. Subaraj has this to say: “There have been several hornbill sightings, of various species, over the years and from various parts of Singapore. While all are regarded as escapees, we cannot be entirely certain that we do not receive strays from Malaysia. Based on the locations of the above reports, it may be that most were Oriental Pied Hornbills as three have been seen off and on at the Bukit Tinggi/Binjai Park area. These may be part of a feral population that started years ago at Upper Seletar Reservoir. The other possibilities are Great Hornbill (Buceros bicronis) or Rhinoceros Hornbill (B. rhinoceros), as there appears to be one of each at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.”

Hornbills are still around in Singapore. So the next time you see a large black and white bird with a large and prominent beak flapping noisily about, chances are that the bird is a hornbill.

Input by Fuhai Heng, Goh Si Guim, James Heng, Vilma D’Rozario, Johnny Wee, Marisa Keller and R Subaraj. Images from top down: YC, Johnny Wee, Fuhai Heng and Marisa Keller.

17 Responses

  1. YC

    Yes, there would be a shortage of nesting sites. However, the Singapore Hornbill Project that is currently going on here is looking into the possibility of using artificial nests attached to tall trees.

  2. smathi

    Saw a group of 3 Oriental Pieds near a small park near the Vanda Rd area (? off Eng Neo Ave, Bkt Timah Rd). Didn’t have my binoculars (shame, shame) so couldn’t see further details. On 31 Jan 2006 while visiting a relative.

  3. YC

    Bukit Timah has proved to be an exciting area for hornbill sightings lately. There are also reports of a Great and a Rhinoceros Hornbill around this area that we hope to post soon.

  4. Jun Ying

    I have observed oriental pied hornbills on ubin. A whole group of 7 of them, flying from coconut tree to tree, as if in courtship. They even chased away a nearby Black Baza. 😐

  5. brian

    Hi, just thought you guys would be interested to know that, every evening, a Great Hornbill comes to rest outside my apartment window. I’ll post photos soon.

    Any behavioural patterns/details you’d like me to observe?


  6. YC

    With a Great Hornbill outside your window, keep a lookout for it’s “mate” if one even appears. This species tends to move in pairs. There is a Rhino Hornbill around and it can one day visit. What you can do is to collect/study the seeds found below the tree that the bird regurgitates. A photo of the “droppings” is also useful. This will enable us to know what fruits (usually figs) it consumes. If it feeds around your area, what trees/fruits it go to. If you note down the time it comes and goes ie return to roost and leaves to feed in the morning, this will be valuable info – to coordinate its movements around the island. Well, you are one lucky guy to have such a beautiful bird outside your window.

  7. David

    Thought I saw a hornbill in the large tree next to the flyover in front of Sherwood Towers (Bukit Timah Plaza) this afternoon (2nd Jan 2008). As I was some distance away at Beauty World Plaza I can’t be sure of the identity of the bird but it was large, had black and white plumage and was calling loudly.

  8. Paul Chu

    I saw a pair of Oriental Pieds this afternoon at AMK Hill Park. Maybe Nat’l Parks Bd can put up a nest box at AMK Hill Park also?

  9. Jane Lee

    I regularly see 2 – 3 oriental pieds flying along AMK Avenue 4 near St Nicholas Girl School. They have been around for a few years. I guess these are the same birds seen at AMK Hill Park.

  10. Audrey Tan

    My mum and I stay at the Sterling in Bukit Timah and we’re privileged to have a pair of hornbills visit regularly. They sit on the railing just outside my living room window. Have got some good shots which I use to teach my students. 🙂

  11. Joyce Ang

    I chanced upon 5 Oriental Pied Hornbills at Greenwood Avenue this afternoon after having lunch there. They were foraging for food while making lots of noise before flying off. Really excited to see them ‘cos the only times I’ve seen wild hornbills in Singapore are in Changi and Ubin.

  12. Reshma V

    I saw an Oriental pied hornbill this morning at Mount Emily Park (near Mount Sophia) 🙂

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