Oriental Pied Hornbill snatched Olive-backed Sunbird fledgling

Adult male sunbird feeding chicks in the nest.

Clarinda Yap was at the right place and at the right time yesterday afternoon, and as such managed to document the drama that unfolded at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. The scene was around the front main entrance pond of the reserve where a pair of Olive-backed Sunbirds (Cinnyris jugularis) had their nest. A group of photographers was documenting the adult sunbirds feeding the pair of hungry chicks in the nest (above, below).

Adult female sunbird feeding chicks in the nest.

As is usually the case, immediately after feeding, the chick would turn around and the adult would pick up the faecal sac from the of chick’s vent to dispose it some distance away (below).

Adult female sunbird removing faecal sac from the chick’s vent.

Sometime in the late afternoon, a male Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) was seen landing on the tree just above the sunbird nest. Sensing that the hornbill would raid the nest, the photographers present there clapped their hands to frighten the hornbill away. The hornbill flew off to another tree. Clarinda photographed the hornbill and only then did she realise that the hornbill had a chick clamped between its mandibles.

Male Oriental Pied Hornbill threatening to lunge at the sunbird nest.

Apparently both chicks had fledged and the hornbill had somehow pounced on the one that flew upwards and landed on a branch of a tree. The other chick was safe as it fledged flying downwards and landed among the bushes.

Oriental Pied Hornbill with a sunbird chick between its mandibles.

“Heartbreaking and very sad but this is life and nature. We can only pray and hope for the best for our Olive-backed Sunbird family,” wrote Clarinda. “The grief stricken parents were hopping and flying about looking for their babies. Later when it was about to rain at 5 pm plus towards 6 pm, I heard the surviving baby call out softly for mom. I then saw the mother sunbird enter the empty nest, stayed there for a while, then flew out again. I hope this family will be ok. And the parents are together with their only baby.”

The surviving sunbird chick hidden among the undergrowth.

During the fledgling’s encounter with the hornbill, a White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus) chick, apparently panicked by the loud calls of the hornbill, made a dash into the undergrowth. Photographers who were around feared that it might end up as another victim of the hornbill. But it was not to be as it managed to hide under the boardwalk (below).

White-breasted Waterhen chick.

Clarinda Yap
18th February 2019

This post is a cooperative effort between Birds, Insects N Creatures Of Asia and BESG to bring the study of birds and their behaviour through photography and videography to a wider audience.

3 Responses

  1. Am

    What do hornbills usually eat? Are chicks or other birds typically part of their diet? Do they have a habit of attacking other birds (to eat them)?

  2. YC Wee

    Hornbills feed mainly on fruits. They also take large insects, lizards, etc. and regularly raid bird nests to take the eggs and chicks.

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