Tuesday 21 May
Helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Helmeted hornbill fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Helmeted hornbill description
The largest hornbill in Asia (5), the helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) is named for its bizarre ‘casque’, a protuberance which perches, helmet-like, on the upper half of the red and yellow, chisel-like bill (2). Unlike the casques of other hornbill species, which are typically hollow and extremely light, the casque of the helmeted hornbill is a solid block of an ivory-like substance (5).
The helmeted hornbill has dark brown upperparts and white underparts (2). Its extremely long central tail feathers, which often double the length of the entire bird, are white with dark banding patterns (3), and there are chestnut-brown feathers around the eyes (5).
Both male and female helmeted hornbills have a bare, featherless patch on the neck. This leathery skin is red in males and turquoise in the smaller females (2).
The peculiar call of the helmeted hornbill is described as a series of hollow ‘took ’notes followed by maniacal laughter, which is unique to this species (3).
- Buceros vigil.
- Cálao de Casco.
- Total length: 110 - 120 cm (2)
- Tail feather length: up to 50 cm (3)
- Male weight: 3.1 kg (2)
- Female weight: 2.6 - 2.8 kg (2)
BirdLife International - Helmeted hornbill:
Hornbill Research Foundation:
- A helmet-like structure or protuberance.
- Evergreen forest
- Forest consisting mainly of evergreen trees, which retain leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous trees, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Primary forest
- Forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
- Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargatal J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 6: Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Forest Department Sarawak - Helmeted Hornbill (March, 2010)
CITES (March, 2010)
- Kinnaird, M. and O’Brien, T.G. (2007) The Ecology and Conservation of Asian Hornbills: Farmers of the Forest. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
- Wee, Y.C., Tsang, K.C., Chan, M., Chan, Y.M. and Ng, A. (2008) Oriental pied hornbill: two recent failed nesting attempts on mainland Singapore. BirdingASIA, 9: 72-77.
BirdLife International (March, 2010)
Espinoza, E.O. and Mann, M.J. (1999) Identification Guide for Ivory and Ivory Substitutes. WWF, Baltimore. Available at:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
Helmeted hornbill biology
The helmeted hornbill is thought to be a territorial bird. Small groups of up to 14 non-breeding and immature birds may forage for food within a single area, but adult breeding pairs have their own territories (2).
The helmeted hornbill performs incredible displays in flight, in which individuals collide in mid-air, their casques clashing with a loud ‘clack’. This aerial jousting, which usually takes place between two males, often results in one or both hornbills being flung backwards, before righting themselves again in flight. These collisions are typically observed near fruiting fig trees, suggesting that the birds are fighting over access to their favoured food (5).
The main food of the helmeted hornbill is fruit, with figs being a particular favourite. However, this species also feeds on small animals, including mammals, snakes, and even smaller hornbills. It typically forages high up in the forest canopy, where it can sometimes be seen hanging upside-down, digging under the bark with its heavy beak and casque. Although breeding pairs share a territory, the male and female forage independently (2).
All hornbills are noted for their bizarre nesting habits, in which the female is sealed within a hollow tree to incubate the eggs (2). A nest is created within a natural hollow, high in a tree, and the female is then sealed within the hollow with mud by the male (2) (3). Only a small hole is left, through which the male passes the female regurgitated food, while the female incubates the eggs (2). The helmeted hornbill has been observed to lay eggs in January to March, as well as in May and November (2). When the young have hatched, the female breaks out of the hollow, then reseals the entrance until the young have fledged (3).Top
Helmeted hornbill range
The helmeted hornbill occurs in Southeast Asia, from Myanmar and Thailand, south through Malaysia to the islands of Sumatra and Borneo (2).
The helmeted hornbill also used to occur in Singapore, but is now believed to be extinct there (6).Top
Helmeted hornbill habitatTop
Helmeted hornbill statusTop
Helmeted hornbill threats
There are a number of factors threatening the helmeted hornbill, and its population is known to be decreasing. Extremely rapid deforestation in Southeast Asia, due to logging and land conversion to agriculture, is particularly concerning, as even protected areas have been illegally targeted by loggers. Deforestation is believed to be the reason for the helmeted hornbill’s extinction in Singapore in the 1950s (2). Thankfully, its preference for remote hill forests limits the loss of its habitat somewhat, as these areas usually face less pressure from logging and agriculture (2) (7).
Forest fires have also destroyed and degraded the helmeted hornbill’s habitat, especially during the late 1990s (7).
The helmeted hornbill is also hunted for its casque. Due to its shape and size, the casque is a desirable substitute for ivory, being ideal for use in the carving of ornaments (8). The amazingly long tail feathers of the helmeted hornbill are also prized as exotic souvenirs (2).Top
Helmeted hornbill conservation
The helmeted hornbill is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that international trade in the helmeted hornbill (or any part of it, such as its casque or tail) is prohibited (4).
A number of conservation measures have been proposed for the helmeted hornbill, including monitoring its populations and assessing the impact of hunting on this species. Protection of the remaining tracts of lowland forest throughout the helmeted hornbill’s range will also be vital for this bird’s survival (7).Top
Find out more
Find out more about the helmeted hornbill:
Learn about the conservation of hornbills:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.