Big Brother is watching
Tuesday 7 September 2004
Final instalment - two hornbill chicks emerge from their nest
As you will remember, our female Malayan black hornbill sealed herself into her nest site at the beginning of June, under the watchful eye of her keepers. She had been in there for about 95 days before she emerged last week with two beautiful young offspring!
This amazing species demonstrates fascinating nesting habits - the female remains sealed in a tree hole for a total of 100 days while she lays and incubates her eggs, then cares for her chicks. She will only break out of the nest when her offspring are fully developed and in full plumage. Aided by a CCTV camera inside her nest, we have been able to monitor the female bird making sure she is healthy and secretly watching the development of her offspring.
After mating back in May, knowing that she was soon to lay an egg, the female hornbill examined our imitation tree cavity (a barrel-shaped cable reel with a hole cut in the side) and decided it would make an ideal nest site. She began closing up the hole with mud before climbing in and getting settled.
From this moment on, the female bird was totally reliant on her lifelong male partner. He began his support role by using his huge beak to pass her mud to finish sealing the hole until only a small aperture remained; just the right size for him to poke his beak through, passing food to the incubating female and removing her excrement!
In our first installment back in the first week of June, the female hornbill had been in her nest for just 18 days, having just laid her first egg. She actually laid four in the end, and two of them hatched at the beginning of July. One hatched a week before the other, so he/she is a little bigger than its brother/sister. At the moment their markings are quite different, one has white streaks on its head like the mother while the other is all black like the father- However, this is no indication of sex; keepers will have to wait another year before they can tell the girls from the boys.
The happy family is currently on show in the bird house, but are the kiddies ready to face the outside world? 100 days in dark hole is a long time, but the chicks are doing just fine and are feeding well - bet Mum's glad to be outside too!