Big Brother is watching part two - the first eggs have hatched!
Friday 2 July 2004
Big Brother contestants aren't the only animals that are being watched 24 hours a day this week. Our female Malayan black hornbill, who sealed herself into her nest site at the beginning of June will remain in isolation, under the watchful eye of her keepers for the next 70 odd days
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 are 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- now that's dedication!
Close up of the female horn bill in her nest
In our first instalment 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 have just hatched! The male begins his paternal duties by passing high protein food through the slot and into the female. The chicks' diet, to begin with consists of mealworms, wax worms (moth larvae), locusts, and small vertebrates.
After a few weeks she'll begin giving them fruit, to add carbohydrate and sugar to their diets. An interesting hornbill fact is that adult African hornbills tend to be meat and insect eaters, while the Asian varieties (Like our friend in the cavity) tend to be fruit eaters when they are fully grown. During her maternal vacation in the nest, the female will moult, losing all her feathers, yet in a few months time she will emerge alongside her young in full plumage, exactly as she was when she went in!
Watch this space - the story will continue with the chicks opening their eyes and growing their pin feathers (small spikes that emerge from the skin as the feathers grow) later in the month.