Oriental Pied Hornbill snatched Olive-backed Sunbird fledgling

on 22nd February 2019
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.

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. 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. 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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