Hornbills | UPSC

Hornbills | UPSC


Forest loss threatens hornbills

      WHY IN NEWS:

Study based on satellite imagery was published in forest journal

SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 3: Flora and Fauna


For PRELIMS go through IUCN status , diversity and the maps of forest reserve in this article .

For MAINS collect all the major initiatives and the festivals associated with Hornbills .


A study based on satellite data has flagged a high rate of deforestation in a major hornbill habitat in Arunachal Pradesh.



  • Hornbills are large and wide-ranging birds and most species are dependent on tropical forest habitats that contain large and tall trees.
  • As they mostly eat fruits, a diversity of  native forest tree and liana species are needed to provide their year-round requirements.

India has nine hornbill species, of which four are found in the Western Ghats:

  • Indian Grey Hornbill (endemic to India)
  • The Malabar Grey Hornbill (endemic to the Western Ghats)
  • Malabar Pied Hornbill (endemic to India and Sri Lanka) and
  • Widely distributed but endangered Great Hornbill.

Males are usually larger than females, being up to 17% heavier and with up to 21% greater wingspan.


  • Hornbills pair for life and return each year to nest in the same tree.
  • Before nesting, the male offers the female a food gift and takes her to the nest site, a natural hole in the side of a tree or cliff face.
  • Larger species lay only two eggs, but smaller species may lay as many as eight eggs.
  • Incubation varies according to species, but lasts for between 23 and 46 days.

The male brings food for the female and the young.  

  • About 6-7 weeks after the chicks hatch, the female breaks the wall of the nest, and from then on helps the male with feeding the young.
  • Depending on the species, the young fledge after 42 – 137 days.
  • The smaller species are adults after a year and larger species after 3-6 years.
  • Hornbills can live up to the age of around 20 years.


  • Using fine-scale satellite imagery, a trio of ecologists assessed the changes in forest cover of the 1,064 sq.km.
  • Papum Reserve Forest (RF) adjoining the Pakke Tiger Reserve as well as a part of Assam affected by illegal felling and ethnic conflict.
  • Papum RF is a nesting habitat of three species of the large, colourful fruit-eating hornbills: Great, Wreathed and Oriental Pied.
  • From 2013-2017 where forest cover declined to 76% of the total RF area.

Hornbills | UPSC


  • The loss and degradation of critical hornbill habitat is seen in the biologically rich forests of the Indian Eastern Himalaya.
  • The ecologists assessed the habitat loss due to illegal logging within a 1 km radius around 29 hornbill nest trees.

Hornbills used to be hunted for their casques — upper beak and feathers for headgear despite being cultural symbols of some ethnic communities in the northeast, specifically the Nyishi of Arunachal Pradesh.

  • Illegal logging, however, has however led to fewer tall trees where the birds nest.


  • Many species are classified as Of Least Concern, Vulnerable or Near threatened.
  • The Narcondam hornbill, and the Visayan hornbill are classifed as Endangered.
  • The rufous-headed hornbill and the Sulu hornbill are classified as Critically Endangered.

Hornbills | UPSC | oriental pied hornbill

Oriental pied hornbill : Hornbills | UPSC



Both the Great and Helmeted Hornbills are protected because the casque can be used as a carving material, similar to ivory. 

  • While the protected areas such as Pakke are better guarded, the forests are often under pressure due to agricultural expansion, conversion to plantations or logging.
  • According to the Global Forest Watch 2020 report, the State lost 1,110 sq.km. of primary forest from 2002-2019.

      IASbhai WINDUP: 

  • Many Hornbills and other Bucerotiformes are relatively large forest birds and require large expanses of forest, with many old trees for nesting – in order to maintain a viable breeding population.
  • While tropical rainforests are being felled at 95 square miles per day – to supply the first world with pretty doors, furniture, scaffolding and disposable chopsticks.

The future is not terribly secure for any Hornbill or other large forest resident.

     SOURCES:THE HINDU & PIB | Hornbills | UPSC


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