Oriental Pied Horn Bill : Ecology, Distribution, behavior & threats

Scientific Name: Anthracoceros albirostris


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Bucerotiformes

Family: Bucerotidae

Genus: Anthracoceros

Species: Anthracoceros albirostris


Oriental pied hornbill is a large black and white colored bird with a specific big and long, white to yellow beak with a casque over it. It’s beak is made up of a spongy light weight tissue.  Both the sexes are similar but the males are bigger in size with bigger casque over the beak which has lesser black marks over it while the female has smaller casque with more black patches. It has white plumage over its belly, thigh, tips of wings, tail and under its eyes, all other parts are black in color.

Ecological Importance

This bird is an important agent for dispersing bigger seeds as it is comparatively bigger in size as compared to other birds. It feeds on the seeds and fruits of Annonaaceae, Miaceae and Myristicaceae family trees and hence plays a vital role in shapping forest community of its habitat and the diversity of the trees on which it feeds.

Distribution Status

It is distributed in tropical and sub-tropical lowland forests and human inhabited areas of subcountinent and south east Asia including Brunei,  Bangladesh, Bhutan, Eastern India, Northern India, Cambodia, Indonesia,  North peninsular Malaysia, Laos, Myanmar, Nepal,  Thailand, Tibet, Singapore, Vietnam and the Islands of Sunda shelf. It inhabits tropical and semitropical forests found in lowlands. It can inhabit many types of implantations, woodlands, forests, like deciduous, semi evergreen, dry, tropical and subtropical woods.


A.albirostris is being hunted for its meat, plumage and most importantly its casque which can be shaped and gifted as memorials. Moreover logging of the nesting and fruiting trees  is also threatening its existence as they cannot find trees for nesting and reproduction. People also keep it as pet. It has been eradicated from the southern China but still it is considered as of “least concern” in world as this specie as a whole proves itself to adapt any ecological changes in its habitat.


To maintain safe population size some strategies are being followed as captive breeding, providing artificial nest, and reintroduction of specie. But captive breeding didn’t proved to be an efficient technique. Artificial nests of iron are also used to provide nesting site to the bird and compensate the habitat loss of the bird through illegal logging. This technique also increases the success rate of reintroduction. The technique of artificial nesting of  is being used in Cambodia.

Other Important Facts

Nesting behaviour

  • Oriental pied hornbills shows specie preference for nesting in trees like it prefers to nest in Bombax ceibaCareya arborea,  Syzigium cumini, Lagerstroemia parvifloraMitragyma parviflora, Cordia myxa,  Terminalia belerica, and  Shorea robusta,
  • They are secondary cavity nesters. It means that they prefer to live in the nests built by other birds or by branches breaking off.
  • Unlike other hornbills they can live in human disturbed habitats like in logging sites of forests, degrading forests and plantations.
  • As compared to other horn bills they make elongated nests which are more rounder at their openings.
  • They tend to make nests near water bodies but they have strong tolerance against habitat alterations.


  • Oriental pied hornbills are monogamous which means that they have only one partner throughout their life time
  • They breed during January to June, preferably during the month of February. Actually it is overlapped by the raining season and abundant fruit availability.[1]
  • Their clutch size is 1-3 eggs which they do incubate for 3-4 weeks and the female leaves its nest along with its chicks after about 66 – 100 days.
  • “Sealed with love” As the female is ready to lay eggs it seals itself inside the cavity using paste of saliva, mud and fibres which are passed to female by the male hornbill. The female lives in this sealed cavity with its chicks throughout nesting period. A slit is left in the center to allow the male to pass the food. Male horn bill forage for the food for itself, its female partner and its chicks. This unique behavior is thought to be a technique of avoiding predators.
  • Pair can return to previous nesting site in the coming nesting periods also.

Flock size

  • During nonbreeding season, this bird forages in flocks as big as a flock of 170 birds.


  • They bark like crows. Their calls are very loud, shear yak yak sounds. It’s like abrupt, fragmented cackling or a witch cackling on its broomstick.

Feeding Ecology

  • Hornbills are preferably frugivores (fruit eating). They feed on fruits of fig, liana vines, palms, berries.
  • But it also feed on large insects, small amphibians, birds, reptiles and fishes.
  • Variety of food ensures that all nutritional requirements are fulfilled.
  • Its diet varies during breeding and non-breeding seasons, as in non-breeding seasons it feeds upon probably sugar rich fruits while in breeding season it takes lipid reach diet. 

[1](PDF) Oriental Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros albirostris preying upon a Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus flaviventris nestling (researchgate.net)[2](PDF) Oriental Pied Hornbill Anthracocerus albirostris, and Indian Pitta Pitta brachyura in Delhi, India (researchgate.net)[3]https://www.mutagens.co.in/jgb/vol.06/6/060607.pdf[4](PDF) BREEDING OBSERVATIONS ON THE ORIENTAL PIED HORNBILL IN NEST CAVITIES AND IN ARTIFICIAL NESTS IN SINGAPORE, WITH EMPHASIS ON … | Zafirah Mohamed – Academia.edu[5]Oriental pied hornbill – Wikipedia

Reviewed by:
Dr. Muhammad Tahir Ph.D. (
Post Doctorate
American Museum of Natural History, New York, USA