Photo of the Month: June 2018

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

Rhinoceros hornbill; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: This species (Buceros rhinoceros) is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), though the population is thought to be suffering a moderate to rapid decline due to the widespread destruction and degradation of forests throughout Southeast Asia.

Habitat: The rhinoceros hornbill is native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. It can be found in lowland and hilly rainforests, as well as some swamp forests. Most hornbills require large trees in which to nest; they do so in natural cavities – usually in trees, but sometimes in rock faces.

Diet: Though the hornbill is omnivorous, it eats primarily fruit – especially figs. It will sometimes prey upon small animals – mostly bugs, but also lizards, frogs, and bird eggs.

As one of the largest hornbill species, the rhinoceros hornbill has one of the most impressive casques – the large head ornamentation made of keratin (the same material as human fingernails). Both male and female hornbills have casques, which can take up to six years to fully develop. The beak and casque are naturally white; throughout its lifetime, the hornbill rubs them against an oil gland (used for preening) located under its tail, which gradually produces the glossy red-orange-yellow color.

Hornbills have a unique nesting ritual. When the female is ready to lay her eggs, she enters a hollow tree cavity and helps the male seal the entrance with mud and feces, leaving only a small slit through which the male feeds the her (and later the chicks) for the next four to five months. When the chicks are about three months old, the female breaks out of the cavity to help care for them until they are old enough to fledge at roughly six months of age.

The L.A. Zoo’s rhinoceros hornbills are located in the Australasia flight – the netted exhibit located in the center of the Australia section.