The Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) is a fascinating bird that is distinguished by its large down-curved yellow beaks and unique hollow structure (casque) above their bills. Common to Southeast Asia, there used to be three Hornbill species in Singapore until they became extinct in the 19th century due to hunting and loss of habitat. Years later in 1994, a pair of Oriental Pied Hornbills were spotted once more in Pulau Ubin, most likely flown in from Malaysia.
To survive in modern Singapore, these hornbills have learnt to live in ‘HDB apartments’ much like the rest of Singaporeans – while they generally nest in natural tree holes in the wild (which are very limited locally), they now live in artificial nest boxes put up by the Singapore Hornbill Project (a research collaboration between Jurong Bird Park, NParks, Nanyang Technological University and independent researchers Marc Cremades and Ng Soon Chye). Their ‘modern apartments’ are pretty hi-tech too – the nest boxes are equipped with sensors and cameras to help researchers study the species. Talk about the origin of reality TV lol.
The hornbill’s breeding habits are pretty intriguing – at the start of the breeding season, females seal themselves into a nest box or tree cavity using mud, vegetation and droppings. They stay there for three months to incubate their eggs and raise the chicks, and are solely reliant on the male partner to bring them food through a narrow slit in the seal. Luckily, hornbills mate for life, so the males are pretty loyal to their responsibility.
It’s heartening to see the efforts put in by a tiny island like Singapore to keep its biodiversity intact amidst rapid urban development. While it is inevitable that urban jungles quickly build up, we should never forget the greatest treasures that will last through time, are nature’s own.