Oriental Pied Hornbills in Pasir Ris Park

posted in: Courtship-Mating, Hornbills, Nesting | 1

“Recently, a pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris) has been frequently sighted in Pasir Ris Park. It can be deduced to be the same pair as the male is distinct due to a slight defect in its left lower eyelid that is unable to open completely.

“On 22 January 2011 evening, this pair of hornbills was observed at a walking path next to Sungei Api Api, which runs through Pasir Ris Park. The male was on top of a park bin and seen checking the exterior of the bin (above left). The female was perched nearby. I was then wondering whether the male was foraging for scraps. As luck would have it, the couple provided me with the answer when I happened to chance upon them again the following day.

“On late afternoon of 23 January 2011, some photographers were already clicking away at this pair of hornbills that appeared to be indulging in allopreening. They were rubbing each other’s bills on a low horizontal branch (above right). The male was also seen clasping its partner’s bill with its own prominent bill. The highlight was a brief locking of bills with the male in the air. (Sorry did not capture the moment, but managed the scene after.) Later, the male was seen inspecting a cavity in the tree, with the female joining him above the cavity (below left).

“A small unknown invertebrate was extracted from the cavity by the male (above right). After more rubbing of bills, the invertebrate ended up at the tip of the female’s bill (below left). All this while, the male was below and the female above the cavity. The male was seen reaching for its preen gland (below right) with its huge bill before hopping to perch above the female.

By this time, the female was arching her head backwards (below left). The male started to preen her chin, the side of her bill, and her neck. The preening ended when the female moved below for a closer examination of the cavity. She was seen tearing off some chunks from the mouth of the cavity (below right). Finally, the male decided to fly off, followed shortly by the female. Obviously, they were in courtship and prospecting for a nesting cavity. Will this cavity be their nest?

“On the morning of 4 February 2011, the same pair was encountered again. Evidently, they had yet to use the cavity or find a more suitable nest.

“The couple was foraging in tree branches before a short feast of juicy noni fruits (Morinda cirtifolia) that had ripened and dropped onto the ground. The fruit was pecked into small pieces, held at the tip of its enormous bill before disappearing into the throat with an expert flick. From what we know, hornbills do not drink water. Hence, they hydrate themselves by eating juicy or watery fruits such as papaya and guava. The noni fruit is thus confirmed as another source of food and water for this species.

“At an obscure corner of the park, about 100 metres away, an artificial nestbox was spotted. The date of installation was not known. Hopefully, it will help these fascinating birds in their quest for a nest.”

Kwong Wai Chong
7th February 2011

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