Yellow-billed Hornbill Annual Lockdown
With much of the world in lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many nature lovers are looking to the wilderness for inspiration to get through this period. This got me thinking about the creatures that sometimes find themselves in “lockdown” in the wild.
Female Yellow-billed hornbills, often referred to as flying bananas because of their large yellow beaks, lockdown each year to incubate and raise their young.
These sociable birds with their distinctive clucking call are monogamous, and together the male and female will inspect potential nest sites. An ideal nest site would be a natural hole, preferably slightly high up, and on the north-eastern side of a tree.
Once a hole is selected, it is lined with foliage and bark flakes mostly brought by the male. When sufficiently lined, the female enters the hole which is then closed up with mud and dung, leaving only a small slit through which the male will feed her during her confinement. She will also eject any waste and faeces through the same gap, keeping the area clean and disease free.
Once “locked in”, she lays 3 – 4 eggs which she will incubate for approximately 25 days. Taking advantage of “lockdown”, the female moults all flight and tail feathers during this time, leaving her completely reliant on the male for survival. The male is kept very busy spending his day catching food and taking it back to the nest for his family.
After about three weeks, once the chicks are half-grown, the female will break out of the nest in order to help the male. Both parents and young will repair the wall with their faeces, and from there on both parents will bring food to the chicks. Once the chicks are fully grown, about 6 weeks after hatching, they will break out of the nest and start flying.
A lot of work undoubtedly goes into raising these young. Nature teaches us that hard work and trust within a family is essential for survival.
As we navigate this new world of “lockdown”, our Mashatu family are working hard to keep our animals safe and to be prepared for the return of our guests.
Images and text by Janet Kleyn.