Papuan hornbill (Aceros plicatus)

Also known as: Blyth’s hornbill, kokomo, New Guinea hornbill, New Guinea wreathed hornbill, Papuan hornbill, plicated hornbill
Synonyms: Buceros plicatus, Rhyticeros plicatus
GenusAceros (1)
SizeLength: 65 – 85 cm (2)
Male weight: 1,190 – 2,000 g (2)
Female weight: 1,500 – 2,000 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

With its large, curved bill; yellow and brown, bony casque (2), and reported laugh-like call (4), the Papuan hornbill is somewhat of a peculiar bird. The male is made even more unusual in appearance by the reddish-orange or golden-yellow plumage that surrounds the head and neck (2). Females differ by having a black head and neck. Both sexes have a largely black body, except for the contrasting short, white tail, and the bare, bluish-white skin around the eyes and throat (2). They also have red eyes, although those of the male are far brighter (2). The variety of honking and grunting calls of the Papuan hornbill are believed to have led to reports of this bird laughing (5).

Found in the Moluccan Islands (Indonesia), New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago, east to Solomon Islands (2), the Papuan hornbill is the only hornbill within this range (5).

The Papuan hornbill inhabits evergreen primary and secondary forest (2), from sea level up to 1,500 metres (5). It may also be found in deciduous woodland alongside rivers and swamp-forest (2), as long as there are suitably large trees in which to nest (6).

Unsurprisingly, considering its rather large size and striking appearance, the Papuan hornbill is said to be a conspicuous bird, which can be seen flying high over the forest, frequently emitting its distinctive call and making a whooshing sound with the beats of its wings (5). Although the Papuan hornbill is usually recorded in pairs or small flocks (2), groups of up to 50 birds have also been reported (5).

Its feeds primarily on fruits, such as figs, but is also known to eat crabs found on beaches, the honeycomb of bees (2), and strangely, soil. The practice of eating soil, known as geophagy, may possibly be carried out to bind the poisonous or bitter tasting substances that are found in many fruits and seeds that the hornbill consumes, thus allowing it to digest these otherwise nutritious plant parts (7).

Although little is known about the breeding biology of the Papuan hornbill, it is thought to lay eggs from about August until October in the west of its range, and between January and May in the east (2). The female lays one to two eggs into a natural hole in a tree (2), which she has shut herself into by building a wall of mud and wood (4). The male feeds the female by regurgitating food through a small hole in this wall (2).

Despite the loss of forest habitat in some parts of its range, the Papuan hornbill remains common in many areas, even abundant on certain islands (2). This may be due to its tolerance of a wide range of habitats (2), even those that have been recently logged (6). However, whilst the Papuan hornbill is not currently considered to be threatened with extinction (1), its tolerance for logged areas should be viewed with caution, as it does require large trees for nesting (6). Another potential threat is hunting, as it is said to be widely hunted (2). It has been reported that local people of New Guinea do not eat this bird, but use its distinctive beak in jewellery (4).

There are no known conservation measures currently in place for the Papuan hornbill.

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  1. IUCN Red List (June, 2007)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 6: Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (June, 2007)
  4. Sillitoe, P. (2003) Managing Animals in New Guinea. Routledge, London.
  5. Strange, M. (2001) A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Indonesia. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  6. Marsden, S.J. (1998) Changes in bird abundance following selective logging on Seram, Indonesia. Conservation Biology, 12(3): 605 - 611.
  7. Diamond, J., Bishop, K.D. and Gilardi, J.D. (1999) Geophagy in New Guinea birds. Ibis, 141: 181 - 193.