The great hornbill (Buceros bicornis) also known as the great Indian hornbill or Parambikulam Great Pied Hornbill, is one of the larger members of the hornbill family. It is found in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Great hornbill is distributed in the forest of India, the Malay Peninsular and Sumatra Indonesia. Their impressive size and colour have made them important in many tribal cultures and rituals. The great Hornbill is long-lived with a life-span approaching 50 years in captivity. They are predominantly frugivorous although they are opportunists and will prey on small mammals, reptiles and birds.
The Great Hornbill is a large bird, nearly four feet tall with 60 inch wingspan, tail feathers reaching 36 inches and a weight of approximately six pounds. The most prominent feature of the hornbill is the bright yellow and black casque on top of its massive bill. The casque appears U-shaped when viewed from the front, and the top is concave with two ridges along the sides that form points in the front, whence the Latin species epithet bicornis. Male hornbills have been known to indulge in aerial casque butting with birds striking each other in flight. Females are smaller than males and have bluish-white instead of red eyes although the orbital skin is pinkish. They have prominent “eyelashes”.
The sound produced has been likened to the puffing of a steam locomotive starting up. During the breeding season (January to April) great hornbills become very vocal. They make loud duets, beginning with a loud ‘kok’ given about once a second by the male, to which the female joins in. They prefer mature forests for nesting. They form monogamous pair bonds and live in small groups of 2-40 individuals. The female hornbill build a nest in the hollow of a large tree trunk, sealing the opening with a plaster made up mainly of faces. Male hornbill bring the food until the chicks are half developed.
In India, nine species of hornbills occur of which for species have been recorded in the Western Ghats. They are the Great Pied Hornbill, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Malabar Grey Hornbill and Common Pied Hornbill. The great Pied Hornbill is known as Ongil by Kurumbas, Haradaya by Kattunayakkas, Peraanthi by Irulas. In the adjoining state of Kerala, where Great Pied Hornbill is the state bird, it is known as with local extirpation. The largest among these four species is the Great Pied Hornbill which is most venerable to local extinction in the Western Ghats. This species requires large stretches of evergreen forests. Being large birds they have to find a sufficiently large sized nest hole in order to house the female and chicks during the long breeding cycle that extends to more than 100 days.
In human culturist local tribes further threaten the Great Indian Hornbills with their desire for its various part. The blood of chicks is said to have a soothing effect on departed souls and before marriage, tribesmen use their feathers for head-dresses, and their skulls are often worn as decorations. Conservation programmes have attempted to provide tribes with feathers from captive hornbills and ceramic casques to substitute natural ones.