Sudden increase in Singapore’s hornbill population

posted in: Hornbills, Nesting | 22


In a talk to update the public on the Singapore Hornbill Project on 22nd May 2008, Marc Cremades, who initiated the project together with Prof Ng Soon Chye, announced that the population of the Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) in Singapore has seen a sudden explosion.

These large and impressive birds have been slowly increasing in number over the last decade or so. When the project was initiated in 2006, the hornbill population was below 30 birds, with about 20 in Pulau Ubin.

The use of nesting boxes in the offshore island of Pulau Ubin has contributed to this sudden increase in population. The birds have been accepting these nesting boxes and using them to breed, and to raise a number of chicks successfully (top).

According to Marc, there are at least seven breeding pairs in Ubin and about 19 juveniles around. He estimates that the total population for Singapore is around 50.

Soon, these artificial nesting boxes will be tried on mainland Singapore. And hopefully, more Singaporeans will get a see these large and impressive birds.

The Bird Ecology Study Group is proud to be associated with the Singapore Hornbill Project.

YC Wee
May 2008
(The above image is courtesy of the National Parks Board, Singapore)

22 Responses

  1. Myron Tay

    I applaud the efforts of all involved in this project. However, I have concerns about using these artificial nesting boxes in the main island because it offers very little protection against would-be poachers. Wouldn’t a better solution be to plant more of the local trees which are favoured nesting sites for our hornbills?

  2. Myron Tay

    The most important advantage of trees versus boxes is the difficulty in spotting the nests. The boxes are virtually signs saying “Yahoo! We’ve got a nest here!”

  3. YC

    Planting trees takes years for them to grow and then mature. Only when trees are about to reach the end of their cycle will there appear cavities (natural or otherwise) that hornbills find attractive to nest in. But then, such trees around public areas pose a danger to life and limbs and are immediately removed. In our limited forest areas, there are not many old and dying or dead trees.

  4. Haniman

    I agree with YC. Although its an ideal circumstance, waiting for trees to be in such a condition is impossible here. So we have to intervene in order to save the birds.What i suggest the authorities do is they start growing more food trees and increase forest cover for these birds.No point having a population explosion only to have them compete with each other for habitat and food.This sudden increase in number is induced and aided. The species and its habitats have to be managed so that we will have a viable population in the long run.Kudos to the SHP team!Great work!

  5. Myron Tay

    We could transplant grown trees (those of our local variety).

    If the decision is to continue to use the boxes, can I suggest that they be made less conspicuous?

  6. Myron Tay

    Do we need to have these trees in places where the falling tree parts can pose a danger? Ideally, these trees should be planted near to areas where hornbills can be sustained i.e. not necessary in places with great accessibility.

  7. BESG

    Let me clarify – I am not speaking for NParks. NParks will be looking into the possibility of extending the use of these nesting boxes and I am sure they will consider the points brought up.

    Prior to this population explosion in Pulau Ubin, two pairs had moved to the main island and set up home in Changi Village, probably due to lack of nesting cavities. Now that the number on the island has increased, provision of these boxes will ease the shortage.

    I am sure nature will find its own equilibrium. More birds may move over, maybe due to food limitation. However, how may hornbills we can ultimately sustain will depend on a number of factor like nesting cavities, availability of food (fruiting trees, animals), proper habitate, etc.

    I am sure all these will be looked into in due course – including the possibility of poaching.

  8. K C Tsang

    I think building nest boxes for the Hornbills would be much faster than waiting for trees to grow old and produce cavities. By the time the trees mature enough, I am sure the Hornbills would have become extinct. So thus the reason for making nest boxes. This is an extreme scenario but which can happen.

  9. Shundeng

    Seems to me that all the attention is focused on the bird, but there’s nothing done to address why it disappeared from our forests in the first place. Nest boxes is a great idea, but I don’t think we should have a “nest box only” population of hornbills.

  10. YC

    As pointed out earlier, the absence or lack of old and dying trees in our forests results in an acute shortage of nesting cavities. This is easpecially true on mainland Singapore.

  11. Jim Yeo


    Have seen one individual in Nee Soon area feasting on palm fruits in early May. Also recall 1 pair at Hendon Road behind the old Changi Hosp in mid 2007, likely flown over from Ubin. Think the effort is bearing fruit.

    Noticed that there are more plam trees planted nowadays and their fruits are now another value food source.

    Jim Yeo

  12. JieYing

    Another more important issue is when if after all these nest boxes actually work and it goes on for years.
    Wouldn’t the gene pool of these hornbills be veryvery limited?
    True enough,I don’t have the figures to the population of hornbills here on mainland and on ubin.
    Its still a cause for concern,do you guys agree?

  13. Choo Teik Ju

    I agree with all parties pertaining to the usage of artificial nesting box as well as planting more big trees. While keeping a sustainable Hornbill population in Singapore mainland, I guess planting more big trees from now, though takes time, is important to ensure a healthy population of this bird while continuing the usage of nesting boxes to ensure that there is no population gap in generations. Apart, ensuring a good supply chain of food to these birds is another factor that we should think about as nowadays NParks do not plant big and fruity trees anymore (look at HDB estate today, you will know), this is in fact a great obstacle.

    Anyway, seeing an increase in Hornbill number excites me. Thank you very much for saving this beautiful creature.

  14. YC

    Two factors that I know of limit the population of these hornbills – food and nesting cavities. Now we can use nesting boxes to complement the natural cavities. As for food, these birds eat figs mainly (and we have lots of these trees), as well as fruits like papaya, banana, jambu and guava. I am unable to comment on gene pool.

  15. farhana

    i was at a changi chalet and was very surprised to see a hornbill fly. i had no idea that singapore would have any hornbill. lucky again, while driving on SLE, i saw 2 hornbills fly towards seletar reservoir. they are meagnificiant birds. i applaude the efforts made for these birds. thank you. it was a beautiful sight.

  16. Kenn Yeo

    I spotted a pair of oriental pied hornbill perching on the netting of the Queens Driving Range on 16 Dec around 3pm. I have noticed a single hornbill circling in the sky above the driving range but seeing the pair for the first time.

  17. bast

    hi YC, no, i have not seen her companion this round. have not heard them yak-ing away this time too.

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