Oriental Pied Hornbill Research

To study the breeding behaviour of Oriental pied hornbills in Singapore both in situ and ex situ


In the past, there were three species of hornbills in Singapore, rhinoceros (Buceros rhinoceros), helmeted (Rhinoplax vigil), and Oriental pied hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris), which were last sighted in the late 1800s. In 1994, a small flock of Oriental pied hornbills was sighted on the island of Pulau Ubin off the northern coast of Singapore. The original nucleus probably arrived from nearby Johor, Malaysia. This launched an in situ and ex situ study of the species as a joint collaborative effort of Jurong Bird Park and various partner institutions. On mainland Singapore Oriental pied hornbills are now also present, probably originating from a pair of escapees. These birds have now established themselves and are actively breeding.

The survival of the Oriental pied hornbills is closely linked to the quality of their environment. Natural habitats of the species consist of forest edges, coastal mangroves and forested islands. These areas are able to provide an abundance of food for the omnivorous Oriental pied horn-bill. Deforestation in the region and overall human pressure on the environment pose real threats to the local survival of the species.


The Oriental Pied Hornbill Conservation Project was first launched in 2005 to study the breeding and nesting behaviours of the Oriental pied hornbill both ex situ (at Jurong BirdPark) and in situ (on Pulau Ubin island, north-east of Singapore) so that the species can be conserved and its habitat protected to ensure its survival. The programme aims to better understand the needs of this species and the role it plays in nature as it is an important reflection of the state of the environment.

The project studies the nesting and breeding behaviour of at least seven bird pairs - three at Jurong BirdPark and four in the wild in Pulau Ubin during the breeding season from December to April.

For its in situ programme, the BirdPark provided the nesting boxes and the equipment for recording the birds' nesting and breeding behaviours. Three to four infrared cameras were fitted to monitor the exterior and interior of each nest and connected to a DVD recorder for 24-hr continuous recording. This enabled the researchers to know what was happening inside the nest cavity during the breeding period.

For the ex situ programme, the Jurong BirdPark devoted three of its aviaries for this project. Three breeding pairs were selected, examined and housed individually in pairs in aviaries measuring 6 x 10 x 12 m. One important factor was the height of the aviary as the hornbills are known to be canopy dwellers. Just like in the wild, four infrared cameras were placed to monitor each aviary in and around the nest box. The cameras were also connected to a DVD recorder for 24-hour recording.

No studies done before by other researchers have managed to perform round-the clock 24-hr video recordings of wild Oriental pied hornbill nests. This allowed unprecedented observations of nest interiors during the nesting cycle giving more accurate information on the incubation period and the hatching of chicks. It is also very useful as little is known about special events such as cannibalism of the chicks which occur in the nest and was recorded in the study.

This ex situ and in situ project has allowed for comparing the breeding and nesting behaviour of the hornbills in the wild and in human care. The nesting and breeding behaviour of the species in captivity seems to mirror those in the wild. By gathering and correlating the data collected on Pulau Ubin island and in the BirdPark, knowledge in this hornbill species will be advanced and breeding success in human care will be enhanced, thereby reducing the pressures of taking birds from the wild. 


WAZA Conservation Project 07013 is implemented by the Jurong BirdPark with collaboration and support from other institutions in Singapore, and support from WAZA.


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