Hornbills mate to produce a UK breeding first
Tuesday 10 October 2006
A love story of two Sulawesi hornbills has had a very happy ending at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park, with the birth of a perfectly formed chick – the first ever bred in the UK.
The tiny tarictic hornbill – called Tomini – was hidden away for more than two months by his mother, in a facinating nesting process.
Two male and female hornbills came from San-Diego Zoo last year and the special bond that developed between them was essential for breeding.
Back in the spring, keepers at Whipsnade created a nest in the bird garden aviary, with the aim of enticing the birds to mate.
The birds were offered a selection of material to help make the nest, including elephant dung from Whipsnade’s own Asian herd, which did get used.
“The nest box simulates a hole in a tree, which is what they would use in the wild,” said Senior Keeper Jamie Graham.
This was filled with peat, sand and shavings and the birds added the rest, in a process called “mudding up”.
“Although it’s called mudding up the adults use their own faeces, animal dung, mud and sticky food mixed with saliva to seal the entrance.
“Both the adults do this, adding one thin layer at a time allowing that to dry and then adding another. This is a long process and it continues to develop the strong bond between them.”
Then the male seals the female inside, leaving just a 1inch size hole to pass through food. The female stays put inside for a staggering three months, to incubate and then hatch the eggs – relying on her mate for food.
“Day and night the male gives food to the female through a small hole while she is in there,” said Jamie.
The female sheds her feathers completely, to provide space for the new chick and stays inside until the chick grows all its primary feathers.
To the keepers’ delight the female finally broke out of the nest on September 20, followed by little Tomini, who was given lots of encouragement by mum and dad.
Jamie said: “It was great to see the new chick – up until then we could only listen out for squeaks to reassure us that everything was ok inside so it was fantastic to see Tomini come out and he looks fantastic.
“They are the first of their kind to be bred in the UK and possibly Europe, so it’s a fantastic achievement for Whipsnade.”
The little chick is still very dependent on its parents for finding food, learning to fly well and just learning how to be a proper hornbill.