Weird and Wonderful – Fascinating behavior of Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill Nesting

If you are a Sri Lankan or if you have ever been to a Sri Lankan forest, you have definitely witnessed this bird’s presence. It either makes a distinct call or appears in front of you. About that special bird, none other than the endemic Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill. It is quite an abundant endemic species in Sri Lanka. That means if you visit any national park in Sri Lanka, wet zone or dry zone, it doesn’t matter, you can see this beauty by your own eyes.

This is a fascinating behavior this bird shows in their breeding season. Males will actively search for females during the breeding season, and you can hear their loud calls while walking through the forest. After mating, the bird will look for a tree cavity to use as a nest. Hornbills rely on existing holes in trees because they are unable to dig their own nests or cavities. The next stage of their nesting is unique; the female hornbill enters the hole in the tree trunk and does not leave until the hatchlings emerge. Females moult, losing all of their flight feathers. She confines herself within a tree cavity and will use mud and plant material brought by her to seal the hole into a narrow slit.

The act of sealing herself in can be interpreted as a means of reducing predation and preventing other hole nesting birds from taking over the nest. Males will also bring females for nest lining. The female is now entirely reliant on the male for her nourishment. The male will then feed insects or regurgitated matter to the female. She will lay between three and five eggs in the nest.

She is the sole incubator and will do so from the first egg laid. They will begin hatching approximately 25 days after the first egg is laid. Males will continue to feed the females, who will feed the chicks. At this point, the female’s flight feathers will have begun to regenerate. Because the female bird cannot fly and cannot feed the chicks, the family is completely dependent on the male bird at this time. If something happens to the male bird and he dies, the entire family may starve to death. When the chicks are sufficiently grown, the female breaks open the nest and comes out to feed the young ones.

Hornbills’ nesting habits are fascinating, and one can spend hours watching the unique breeding behavior of the forest.

So, the next time you go for a drive in the Sri Lankan forest, look into the trees and look for any hornbills you may come across. Is there a couple together? Is there food in one’s mouth? Is one perched vertically against a tree and visits the same tree on a regular basis? Take a look; there’s a chance you’ll see some fascinating and one-of-a-kind behavior.

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