Great Indian hornbill

Scientific name: Buceros bicornisimages

Conservation status:

  • IUCN – Near threatened
  • It is listed in Appendix I of CITES.

Know your hornbill
  • There are four hornbill species in the area – the Great hornbill, Wreathed hornbill, Rufous-necked hornbill and the Oriental Pied hornbill
  • The great hornbill (Buceros bicornis) also known as the great Indian hornbill or great pied hornbill, is one of the larger members of the hornbill family
  • Great hornbills are found in the forests of Nepal, India, Mainland Southeast Asia and Sumatra. The distribution of the species is fragmented over its range in South and Southeast Asia. In South Asia they are found in a few forest areas in the Western Ghats and in the forests along the Himalayas. Their distribution extends into Thailand, Burma, Malaya, and Sumatra
  • Hornbills have large beaks and some species have an ornamental structure called ‘casque’ on their heads, which looks a bit like a helmet.
  • Hornbills are known as the ‘farmers of the forest’ as they eat fruits and disperse seeds far and wide helping the trees spread.
  • During the breeding season, the female hornbill finds a suitable cavity inside the trunk of a large tree to lay eggs in.
  • Unfortunately, nest trees are cut down for timber and the birds themselves are often hunted.
  • Members of the Nyishi community, who reside in the forests around Pakke Tiger Reserve (Arunachal Pradesh), use the beak and casque of hornbills, especially the Great Hornbill, in their traditional headgear; besides, they also eat the meat and use the fat.
  • Hornbills are hunted in some areas while they are losing their forest habitat rapidly.
  • A community-focussed conservation programme around the Pakke Tiger Reserve in Western Arunachal Pradesh however gives some hope for the hornbills’ future.
  • The Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), an NGO based in Mysore and Bangalore, started the Hornbill Nest Adoption Programme (HNAP) in Arunachal Pradesh in 2011 to protect hornbills and their nest trees. NCF partners with the Ghora-Aabhe Society (a Nyishi community institution) and the Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department.
  • The program has followed a two-step approach, wherein the Nyishi nest protectors find, monitor and protect hornbill nests and roosts; while people far away ‘adopt’ nests and contribute financially towards providing income and other benefits to members of the Nyishi community to look after hornbills.
  • Four years on, the HNAP has led to the protection of 33 hornbill nest trees and successful fledging of 60 hornbill chicks by members of the Nyishi community, some of whom were formerly hunting the birds.
  • Visual artist Mallika Prakash, based in San Francisco, has created ‘Art for Hornbills’ an art exhibition and sale featuring hornbills. Its organised in collaboration with several artists to raise awareness on hornbill conservation in Bengaluru.  Artists come together to paint the fabulous hornbill and raise awareness and money for its conservation this weekend

Extra info (just to feed curiosity)

  • Great Hornbill: The largest and best-known of all hornbills in India, this species occurs in three separate populations – in the north-east, north (Uttarakhand mainly) and in the south-west (Western Ghats). 
  • Narcondam hornbill: Among the Indian hornbills, the Narcondam hornbill is the most endangered and occurs only in the remote 6 sq km Narcondam Island with a global population estimated to be about 300-400 birds.
  • Brown hornbill: This is the least known among the hornbills of India and is found in eastern Arunachal and some parts of Mizoram, Assam and Nagaland. It has a unique co-operative breeding system, where males are helped at the nest by juvenile helpers. 
  • Rufous-necked hornbill: This beautiful hornbill is an endangered species in India where it occurs only in the hilly evergreen forests of North Bengal, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Assam, Mizoram and Nagaland. 
  • Wreathed Hornbill: Within India, this species is found in north-east India and is a little larger than the Rufous-necked hornbill. This hornbill is known for its large spectacular communal roosts and also for long-ranging seasonal movements. 
  • Malabar-Grey-Hornbill: This small, plain brownish-grey hornbill is found only in the forests of the Western Ghats. It does not have a casque that is typical of most hornbill species. 

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