White-crowned Hornbills at Kinabatangan River, Borneo

on 27th July 2011

“I went on a river safari along the Kinabatangan River, Borneo in late June 2011 to photograph wildlife. My boat was cruising along the river in the late afternoon when we were alerted by another boat of a hornbill sighting. We saw four adult White-crowned Hornbills (Berenicornis comatus) on the tall trees along the side of the river where the sun was setting. The back light was still strong which made bird photography very challenging. These were active birds that flew around several trees frequently before disappearing. I felt happy to see them for the first time which was unexpected. But the second round of sighting was about to take place within the next couple of minutes.

“As we headed back to the centre of the river, our boatman saw more White-crowned Hornbills across the other side of the river bank. We saw three adults, one of which was a female. This time, the light conditions were perfect. When the male and female perched together, they looked like a royal couple (above right). Was able to take some flight shots (below left). These hornbills are real attention-grabbers because they look distinctly different from other hornbills. On one hand, they look majestic with their delicate and feathery white crown in addition to their long white tails. But on the other hand, they look evil with their heinous looking eyes that were surrounded by dirty, dusty specks on the face and beak (above left). Their tail feathers are totally white, unlike other hornbills that are either black or has white and black bands on them. The line between the upper and lower mandibles are jagged, enhancing their heinous look.

“One interesting behavior I noticed was the way the female hornbill flew (above right). It literally dived down in a suicidal fashion from its perch along the tree trunk which was rather dangerous as it might hit the low branches, bearing in mind that it was as big as a domestic chicken. I only noticed this act when I reviewed my photos in the computer. I consider myself fortunate to see seven White-crowned Hornbills in one afternoon.”

Thong Chow Ngian
16th July 2011

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

3 responses

  1. Wow! Thanks for this post! I am an amateur birdwatcher who has been to several southeast asian coutries and have seen quite a few species of hornbills and didnt even know this species of hornbill existed! They do look majestic and those white feathers are indeed enchanting…..

  2. I find the crown feathers very interesting and unique, willowy and soft, very different from other horbills. Its nice when the wind blows and you can see the crown feathers and long white tail moving with the wind. Others have a bigger casque above the bill but the white crown has a much smaller one.

    The colour scheme of the whitecrown is also reversed from other hornbills which usually have black wing feathers. Instead, the whitecrown has white wings. Their eyes are also very pale, giving it the ghostly look.

    Another interesting observation is the way they fly. They seem to be more active and dive alot more than other hornbills. But need to find out more to confirm their flying pattern.

    Our experienced guide Zainal said that he can quickly identify various hornbills by looking at their tails. For the whitecrown, their tails are unmistaken; totally white and long in proportion to their body, while others are either black or white with black bands.

    It was indeed exciting when we were able to spot the whitecrown hornbills. Made my day. Hope you get a chance to see them in the wild.

  3. Oops, made a mistake with the description of the wing colours. It should be white body and not white wings. Apologies

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