What do hornbills eat?

posted in: Feeding strategy, Hornbills | 6

Most Asian hornbills are omnivorous, taking both plant and animal foods. However, there is a preference for fruits and small animals. And figs are the favourite, although there are reports of them feeding on rambutans (Nephelium lappaceum) as well as a great array of forest fruits.

Animals are taken by hornbills, especially during the breeding season. These include scorpions, lizards, geckos, skinks, earthworms, frogs, caterpillars, beetles, butterflies, cicadas, grasshoppers…

Great Hornbills (Buceros bicronis) feed primarily on fruits, especially figs. But they also hunt actively for small animals like snakes, lizards, bird nestlings and eggs, beetles and insects.

Figs are consumed at a rate of about 200 per sitting. The figs are delicately picked with the tips of their mandibles. But not larger figs like those of Roxburg’s fig (Ficus auriculata) (above). These are not swallowed whole but rather eaten piece by piece. Tan Teo Seng, who has a fruit farm in Kota Tinggi, Johor, reports that flocks of Oriental Pied Hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) invade these trees whenever they are covered with figs.

When hornbills swallow fruits with large seeds, these seeds are regurgitated up to an hour later undamaged. Sometimes seeds are also passed through the digestive tract, which is the case with figs as the seeds are extremely small. As such, hornbills are good seed dispersers of forest plants.

Thanks to Tan Teo Seng for his input. Image of Oriental Pied Hornbill by HK Tang and of Roxburg’s fig by YC.

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6 Responses

  1. danielkoh

    Hi there, the Oriental Pied Hornbill shown in the picture is feeding on Ficus superba fruits (sea fig).

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  2. Thanks for the fig ID, danielk.

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  3. Jun Ying

    I personally have seen an Oriental Pied Hornbill with a changeable lizard in its mouth. True, but astonishing nevertheless.It was “scouting” around my school campus, but left after a few days

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  4. Robert Teo

    Thru Singapore Hornbill Project at Ubin, video footage showed diet includes Changeable Lizard and Cave Nectar Bat (new bat record for Ubin!) Hornbills in Ubin have been observed eating banana, rambutan, papaya, jambul bol, fish-tail palm.

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  5. Mighty interesting diet. Thanks Robert for the info.

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  6. I have 2 of them coming on my terrasse every day for food.
    I feed them with grapes; not white for which they show not a great interest but black

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