“This is the first time Oriental Pied Hornbills have been successfully artificially incubated, and it represents a big step in the conservation of these magnificent creatures native to Singapore and South East Asia,” said Dr Luis Carlos Neves, DVM, Assistant Director, Avian, Jurong Bird Park. “Oriental Pied Hornbills have very unique breeding behavior wherein the female seals herself into a tree cavity to lay eggs and raise the chicks. It is extremely challenging to artificially incubate these eggs, and it is rarely attempted. The fact that we have succeeded is good news for the global avian community as there is currently very limited data on these fascinating birds.”
The three rescued eggs had been abandoned by their mother. On 7 January, Rangers from National Parks Board (NParks) on Pulau Ubin found a nest with a broken seal, and after it was ascertained that the female hornbill had abandoned the nest, the eggs were sent to Jurong Bird Park where they were artificially incubated.
Jurong Bird Park welcomed the first hornbill chick hatchling on 25 January, weighing 22.6g. The second chick hatched 3 days later on 28 January, weighing 21.8g. The last chick hatched on 1 February, at 20g.
After the chicks hatched, they were fed six times a day, on a diet consisting of a mixture of fruit and dried insects. At a month old, they are fed thrice a day, but with an increase in fruit and commercial avian pellets.
Although listed as Least Concern on the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) red list, Oriental Pied Hornbills were not seen in Singapore for 140 years prior to 1994. The last sighting formally recorded was in 1855 by Alfred Russell Wallace. There were various inconclusive sightings over the following years. In 1994, a pair of wild hornbills was sighted on Pulau Ubin. Three years later, the first breeding record of hornbills was observed on Pulau Ubin. By 2005, there were about 10 individuals in the wild. That same year, a collaborative study between Jurong Bird Park, NParks and Singapore Avian Conservation Project was initiated with the intention to study the breeding and conservation of these birds.
With the knowledge gained from observing these birds in the Bird Park, artificial nest boxes were introduced to Pulau Ubin, which greatly increased the breeding of the Oriental Pied Hornbills. During the length of the five year project, Oriental Pied Hornbill numbers in the wild increased from around 10 individuals to 50 individuals. Today there are between 75 – 100 wild Oriental Pied Hornbills in Singapore.
“In addition to being able to marvel at these beautiful birds which are part of the Singaporean heritage, the significant increase in Oriental Pied Hornbill numbers in the wild means that Singapore has more natural fruit dispersers. These mid-sized birds regurgitate some fruit whole, while other fruit are dropped along the way before they are eaten. In this manner, the birds reach areas in Singapore which are untouched and even unknown, helping to re-populate the island with fruit trees,” noted Dr Luis Carlos Neves.
Jurong Bird Park has one of the largest collections of hornbills globally, with 17 species represented. The Park has 16 Oriental Pied Hornbills, some of which can be seen at the Hornbills & Toucans exhibit. During breeding season which takes place from November to March, cameras will be installed in the Oriental Pied Hornbill exhibit, and visitors can catch a glimpse of nesting activities through television screens placed at the exhibit.
For more information about Jurong Bird Park, please visit www.birdpark.com.sg.
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