Breeding the Southern Pied Hornbill

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Southern Pied Hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris convexus) were first bred successfully in the UK at Chessington World of Adventures, Surrey in 1995 where 2 chicks were raised successfully. It is believed that this was the first recorded breeding of this species in Great Britain. 1997 saw a failed attempt with 2 chicks being hatched but not reared. 1998 has been more successful with 2 chicks fledging on July 11th. The following is an overview of the breeding and husbandry at Chessington.

Species description and range
The Southern or Sunda Pied Hornbill is a medium sized black-and-white Hornbill, its range covering Southern Thailand, Malaysia and the Indonesian Islands.

Noticeably larger than the nominate of the species, the Southern Pied hornbill is an attractive bird. Sexually dimorphic, the male is generally larger than the female with a large casque, the female is somewhat smaller both in body and casque. Along with the size of the bird, the generally accepted term of recognizing this sub-species is the marking on the tail, the nominate species having black tail with white band at bottom, the convexus subspecies having a white tail with black central tail feathers.

Although not uncommon throughout its range, it is not widely kept and according to the 1997 UK Studbook, only 5 specimens of this species are currently held in the UK, 4 of them being the original Chessington pair and the 2 1995 offspring, now at Harewood Bird Gardens, Leeds.

The other bird is a female held by the Zoological Society of London.

Southern Pied Hornbills have been kept at Chessington World of Adventures since early January,1995 when a pair was acquired on loan. The birds were an established pair and had bred previously at another location although the chick died at 28 days.

The pair are housed in an aviary, approx. 12m sq. and 3.7m high with heated indoor accommodation and a large pond. The enclosure is well planted and contains a large willow, crab apples and an acacia tree. There are several shrubs and many climbers over the wire such as Russian Ivy and Clematis. The flooring substrate is both fine gravel and large peat/soil beds.

The Aviary is shared with a breeding group of Azure-winged Magpies, Southern Masked Plovers and until recently, Scarlet Ibis. Although the Hornbills are large birds, there has been very little interaction with the other species.


The standard diet fed to the Hornbills is 80% chopped fruit (apple, ripe pear, grape, papaya, mango, fresh dates, melon, occasionally banana - plus seasonal fruits as available, red currant, cherries, etc) 20% soaked Kaytee Exact Low-Iron Mynah/Toucan pellet. Livefood is offered in the form of mealworms, giant mealworms, locusts and crickets, this is taken eagerly during the breeding season but out of season only the locusts are generally of interest. Rat pups are also offered but rarely taken unless rearing chicks

The Hornbills have bred in two different nestboxes, the first breeding took place in a conventional nestbox (50cm sq. by 1m high), the 1998 breeding was in a large hollowed out log. The site for the boxes is partially obscured from public view by the willow and shaded by the climbing plants. A mixture of peat and cleaned wood shavings is used to fill the box .

The birds are not given access to the breeding boxes until mid-March, early April, by which time both birds are vocalizing frequently and the male is feeding the female on a regular basis.

The nestbox has a cross section of hollow log, placed across the entry hole to stimulate the birds by allowing to burrow the way into the box and also aid "mudding-up".

Both birds are extremely inquisitive when access is given and the female is normally in the box within a day or two. During the following weeks, the pair spend much time at the box, inspecting it and excavating material.

"Mudding-up" usually commences 2-4 weeks later with the male carrying soil and bark chips up to the nestbox. The area of soil/peat is kept well watered and the majority of nesting material was gathered from this area. The bark chips are passed to the female inside the box where she uses them to fill the nest cavity. Both mud, food and feces are used in the "mudding-up" process.

Allowing for laying to commence 4 days after the female was completely sealed in, and assuming an incubation period of 29 days, we began to add livefood and rat pups to the standard diet. This was initially done 3 times daily but as the volume of food taken to the nestbox increased, we were soon putting another 3 extra feeds in. The initial livefood of mealworms and crickets was supplemented, as the chicks grew, with locusts, giant mealworms, rat pups and chopped mice. All were eagerly taken to the female in the nest.

Due to the situation of the nestbox and other general noise it is extremely difficult to hear any vocalization coming from the box. It is usually about 7 to 8 weeks after the hatch date that chicks could be heard calling when being fed by the female. Full term for the female in the box has been 89 and 110 days respectively. When they break from the nestbox, the entire family exits within a couple of hours, and while the female is chipping her way out the male is highly vocal. The adult birds then call loudly to encourage the chicks to leave the nestsite. In 1995, one of the chicks actually left the nestbox before the female. The fledglings continue to be fed by the adults for up to 8 weeks but chicks have been seen feeding independently 2 weeks after leaving the nest.

The Southern Pied Hornbill is a not an endangered species, yet due to the very low numbers in the UK and Europe, it is a species well worth breeding. It give a good grounding in Hornbill husbandry skills before turning to other, perhaps rarer, species of Hornbill. The European Anthracoceros Hornbill Studbook is run by Simon Tonge at London Zoo, anybody holding or knowing the whereabouts of other Southern Pied Hornbills are strongly urged to contact him to assist in the breeding program.