Love Hornbills Day 2023

Posted February 13, 2023 by Aimee Owen

Hornbills at a Glance

Hornbills are a large group of birds found in Africa and Asia.  The group as a whole is widely known for their intelligence, their striking good looks, and their strong family bonds.  Hornbills are the ultimate team players of the bird world.  Males and females display bonding behaviors like feeding each other or grooming each other, called preening, and spending time providing for each other.  They nest in a large tree cavity and once the female has laid her eggs, she will almost completely cover the entrance for protection from the elements and from predators, but also leaving the male to provide for her and the entire family.  Hornbill dads work tirelessly to provide everything his family needs to grow and thrive.

Most hornbills are easily identified by their casque, a typically banana-shaped growth on their forehead above the beak.  The casque acts as a resonating chamber, helping their vocalizations travel farther through the forest to let other hornbills know what, who, and where they are.  The casque is not as noticeable in some species, being little more than a bump above the nostrils, but in others it is quite striking, like that of the Cincinnati Zoo’s very own rhinoceros hornbill.  This species is found throughout the rainforests of much of Southeast Asia.  A rhinoceros hornbill’s most notable role in their environment is seed dispersal.  They’ll eat whole fruits like figs and then “distribute” the seeds of these fruits in their droppings as they make their way through the forest.

Rhinoceros Hornbills at the Cincinnati Zoo

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden has played a pivotal role in hornbill management and conservation through the years.  Our now retired breeding pair, Bruce and Mom, were at one point in time the parents of the most hornbill kids across the country!  Their success as parents was vital to the population of rhinoceros hornbills in human care and continues to play a part in that population, even though Bruce and Mom now choose to spend their days as “empty nesters”, feeding and grooming each other in the quiet of their behind-the-scenes home.  Our zoo has also played a role in international conservation efforts for hornbills like feather collection and nest adoptions, which offer funding for nest monitoring, local education, and protection from deforestation and poaching.

Here at the Cincinnati Zoo, visitors can find these charismatic birds in two different public areas.  Quincy and Remi are hornbill sisters that call our Birds of The World area home.  They can be seen destroying enrichment (as is often the goal of any hornbill), bathing and stretching their wings in their pool, and exercising as they playfully chase each other around their space, just like any set of sisters.  Another familiar hornbill face you’ll see at the zoo is in our Wings of Wonder Bird Encounter, the one and only fan favorite Teri!  She can be seen flying in the encounter and visiting with guests afterwards.  Her playful personality and grace in flight demonstrate some of the coolest things about rhinoceros hornbills:  their beauty, brains, and family bonds.