HIGH UP ON the ridgetop, the view opened out on to immensity: a green carpet of dipterocarp forest that rolled away, up and up into the mountainous heart of Malaysia. Not a road, not a house: pure wilderness as far as the horizon and beyond. The vast sky overhead, darkening with cloud. Way off to the north, a travelling speck, slowly, slowly traversing the sky, miles away, perhaps a mile high; after an age, resolving from one speck into five specks. Surely they weren’t birds?
Closer and closer, still impossibly far up, the five noble creatures laboured ponderously all the way across that primeval landscape. Twenty-five years later, those five rhinoceros hornbills are still flying for ever onwards in my mind’s eye. I still wonder where they were flying to, and why. They couldn’t have been migrating. Was it just a change of foraging grounds, or even a roost flight? Even in those days, there can’t have been many places in Asia where tropical forest spread unbroken to the horizon. How few there must be today.
For me, those five mighty birds crossing the sky, voyaging who knows where, symbolise both the majesty and the fragility of Asia’s wild places. Asian hornbills need forests: giant trees with huge natural cavities. They don’t compromise much. When the forests go, the hornbills go – unless we decide to keep some.
According to Rosemary Low (who this week begins a four-part series on these unique birds; see page 14), a current authority reckons that nine species of Asian hornbill are represented in collections at present. My world checklist cites 32 species (that’s Asian species only; African hornbills, as Rosemary reminds us, are less reliant on forest.) So, fewer than one in three species are safeguarded in captivity. It probably won’t be enough, as poaching and forest clearance really get stuck into the remnant wild populations. But we can still help. Asia’s hornbills are no longer a wacky-looking luxury item in bird collections. Effectively, they are refugees. If we don’t offer them asylum, nobody else will.
■ Ed’s Ad of the Week: “Pair Himalayan snowcock: £700.” Now you’re talking... ever heard a snowcock in full cry? OK, I know, the neighbours probably haven’t either. But still. See page 24... and if that doesn’t suit, over the page I see silver pheasant cocks on offer at a mere fiver a time. Happy days!
Enjoy your birds this week.
In the February 10, 2016, issue of Cage & Aviary Birds, stars of many a bird park and large private collection, the hornbills of Africa and Asia fascinate Rosemary Low. In the first of four major articles, she begins to explain why
In news, a siskin hen remains unbeaten at four specialist British bird shows this season and COM-UK has marked its highest World Show medal-count since its formation in 2011.
Dot Schwarz appraises World of Wings maestro Michael Simmons's philosophies on training birds as he shares some of his extensive knowledge in his DVD Flight not Fight
With upwards of 80 first-round and 40 second-round youngsters, Sam Wildes is happy enough with the season's numbers. Now, he hopes, the quality will show
After an indirect approach to the world of aviculture, thanks to the school's career officer, Geoff Masson has amply proved that birds really are in his blood. Words: Dave Brown
Plus lots more, including Budgerigar Diary, canary health and well-being, Ask the Expert and Bird Notes