Friday, May 21, 2010

Backyard OPH

As a resident in the Miri area the past 4 years, I have been most fortunate to regularly observe a nesting pair of Oriental Pied Hornbill (also known as the Malaysian Pied Hornbill).

Although our family travels far and wide in Borneo to view as much wildlife as we can, we feel incredibly lucky that some of the most impressive wildlife can be found in our own back garden. Each year we watched with great renewed interest as the pair repeat their nesting cycle, and their family graces us with regulat visits for a period of a few months.

Every 10 months or so, the female seals herself into her nesting hole in the base of a casuarina tree, and remains there for 2-3 months. The male provisions her with fruits, nuts, frogs, snails and other tasty morsels. When he is not off foraging for food for his family, he perches on a nearby branch and fiercely protects his brood. He has been observed dive-bombing nosy dogs, and squawking loudly when anyone approaches the nest too closely.

During the nesting period, a keen observer with binoculars can see glimpses of black and white feathers, or even a white and blue rimmed eye through the narrow entrance to the nest. Just who is watching who? At a certain point, red-rimmed eyes can be seen as well, a sign that the chicks have hatched and are somehow crammed into that narrow cavity with the mother hornbill.

One day, the female and fledglings emerge - almost always 2 offspring, with the exception of late 2008 when there were three! The fledglings are almost the same size as their parents when they emerge. How they all fit inside that tree cavity, and how they manage to fly after so many week of inactivity is a true wonder.

For the next several months, Mother, Father and offspring can be seen foraging around the area, raising a racket wherever they go. Something in my garden must be fruiting between the months of March and July, for this is when we see them most often, enjoying almost daily visits - a welcome distraction from work, but not so welcome when their squawking wakes us at 5am!

Extraordinarily tame, they congregate on cars, play equipment, and other man-made structures, allowing fairly close approaches for photographing and videoing. Some residents have even been startled by the unexpected figure of a hornbill peering in their living room window!

Over the weeks that they return to be photographed, the chick's development can be observed. Their bills, which start out creamy and translucent, grow and thicken, and differentiate into the male and female casques. The rims of their eyes become less red, and more white. After a few months of family foraging, the offspring of the year seem to disperse, and the female starts her nesting cycle again.

For a time, the area of observation is relatively quiet, as she broods her nest and the temporarily solitary male does his fatherly duty of foraging and protecting.

For many residents, these birds represent the best that their time in Borneo has to offer. I truly hope that we can all work together to ensure their continued survival in this small island of biodiversity in an ever-growing city!

14 November 2007 : Male provisioning female and chicks (left). Food provided included frogs and insects, as well as seeds and fruit Chick peaking out of nest (right). Experts claimed these were the only case of hornbills nesting at ground level that they had ever encountered.

28 January 2008: The female and chicks have emerged from the nest. Chick 1 (left) and Chick 2 (right) travelled with their parents and frequented gardens around camp, often perching on man-made structures like drain pipes and play equipment!

11 March 2008: Adult female and developing female chick (left). Male chick on the ground (right).

16 April 2008: Female chick (left) and male chick (right) and whole family of 4 (below). Still travelling as a noisy foursome. Seem to be comfortable with fairly close approaches for photographs.

By Dr Gianna Minton/MNS Miri/May 2010

Oriental Pied Hornbill Anthacoceros Albirostris has been noted as the most adaptable of all hornbill species. Their habituation around humans and human settlement has been well documented over the years.

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