A tale of Hornbills

Sighting the Malabar Grey Hornbill family from my balcony

I have always maintained that hornbills are one of the coolest birds. Huge size, beautiful beaks, graceful appearance; and the males take on an awesome parental care responsibility! All you bird nerds must be knowing that it’s hard to beat a hornbill dad in the ‘Best Dad Ever’ competition. Because, when the hornbill couple decide to have a chick (or two), they find a suitable tree hollow, the male locks up the female in the hollow (now hold your horses before you start marking this as domestic abuse!), plasters the tree hollow with mud and faeces till only the beak of the female has room to come out. This, my friends, is to be their nest. The female lays eggs in this hollow, nurtures and protects the chick(s) while the male provides for the female and then the chick. Such a nest is made to protect the female and the chick from predators! While I can go on and on about hornbills, I have a story to tell today, so to know more about these amazing birds, I will direct you to this very awesome comic by Green Humour (Rohan Chakravaty) on the hornbills.

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The stream behind my house
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A small coconut plantation seen from the balcony

To study the herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) of the Tillari region in northern Western Ghats, I moved to the border of Goa-Maharashtra in a small village called Maneri. Here I stay close to my field site. My house is located near a beautiful stream and there is a small coconut plantation right behind my house. Standing in my balcony I can see this mesmerizing site and even do birdwatching from here.

Since I moved here, a Malabar Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros griseus) couple has been visiting me every few days. Sometimes they would wake me up in the morning by pecking at the window (they do this because the windows are reflective and lot of birds get confused seeing their own reflection), other times they would just cackle (a call of the hornbill is called cackle) from the coconut tree perch outside the balcony.

Few months ago, (precisely from February end), I stopped seeing the female here. The male came infrequently but alone. I knew it was hornbill breeding season and I believed they must be nesting. Even then I worried for them. Lot of plantations near my house are being cut and ‘developed’ into buildings. I worried our hornbill couple might succumb to this developmental activities.

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I had a camera of a friend for a few days and managed to click this picture of the male of Malabar Grey Hornbill during the time he used to come alone

But today morning I woke up to a hornbill chorus! I saw the male cackling outside my window. I slowly came close to the window. I heard two distinct cackles so I was looking for another hornbill and then slowly the female jumped up from the back frond of the coconut tree and joined her mate. It seemed they were announcing something, and while I looked at them, a head popped up from behind and I gaped at that because voilà! It was a chick! A juvenile little Malabar Grey hornbill! I watched all three of them cackle with tears of joy rolling down my cheeks. For about half an hour they sat there cackling, preening and the chick going on eating something.

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The male on the left and the female on the right

 

 

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See if you can locate all of three of them in this picture! This image is taken from my mobile from a closed window and hence this poor quality.

In the above video, notice a small head popping in the end!

I have been watching this couple and now after many months of not seeing the female, having million different worries about them, and then seeing them like this, is one of the most wonderful sights of my life! I had no idea how much I was invested in this couple until this happened. This, in my opinion, is the best way to wake up. Oh, What a beautiful Sunday morning! 🙂