Oriental Pied Hornbill – breeding

on 5th February 2007

There are slightly more than a dozen Oriental Pied Hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) in Singapore’s offshore island of Pulau Ubin. There they breed regularly, nesting in cavities found high up along the trunks of old trees.


Prior to breeding, a pair would indulge in courtship feeding and they would go prospecting for a suitable nesting cavity. The male bird would lure the female to the cavity, flying back and forth between the perch and the cavity. He would need to convince his mate that he is capable of feeding her once she is sealed up inside. He needs to demonstrate feeding at the cavity, sometimes placing food inside.

He would even enter the cavity in an effort to convince her that it is alright. This may go on for a number of days. But once she is convinced, she will fly over and inspect it. She would even clean up the inside of the cavity.

Then the birds would mate and the female would be sealed inside leaving only a narrow slit for the male to pass her food. She lays her eggs and sheds her feathers.


In the images above, the male is bringing an egg (left) and probably a fig (right) to his mate and chicks sealed inside the nest.


Detials of feeding is shown in the image on the left where the male is passing on food to the chicks sealed inside a cavity high up an old durian tree (Durio zibethinus) growing within the compound of a house in Pulau Ubin. The bird flew in several times a day, bringing food for the imprisoned occupants. Food includes figs, eggs, insects and reptiles.

After 29 incubation days and almost 2 months of living together in a confined space, the female reopens the cavity entrance and free the young birds. The parents will accompany them as they discover their new environment.

Input by YC, images by YC (top, middle right) and Dr Jonathan Cheah Weng Kwong (middle left, bottom).

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

2 responses

  1. An update … there are at least 20-30 hornbills on Ubin now. Studies have shown that it is the female which seals herself in with material brought by the male.

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