Above: Near Threatened rhinoceros hornbill at one of the artificial nest-boxes in the Kinabatangan Forest, Malaysia. Photo: SANJITPAAL SINGH / JITSPICS.COM©


WILD RHINOCEROS HORNBILLS (Buceros rhinoceros) have successfully nested in an artificial nest-box for the first time – four years after a pilot project launched to test whether large-bodied hornbills would use such nesting sites.

In 2013, conservation organisation HUTAN-KOCP set up five artificial nest-boxes in Kinabatangan’s (Malaysian Borneo) regenerating forest, which lacks cavity-bearing trees. Four species of hornbill visited these: rhinoceros, Oriental pied (Anthracoceros albirostris), wrinkled (Rhabdotorrhinus corrugatus) and bushy-crested (Anorrhinus galeritus), but only the smaller Oriental pied made nesting attempts.

Three years later, a pair of Near Threatened rhinoceros hornbill attempted to seal the nest entrance of one of the boxes, and in July 2017 scientists observed the same pair successfully nest and raise a single chick. This represents the first ever wild pair of rhinoceros hornbills to nest in an artificial nest-box.

Since then, the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) has awarded funding to the Conservation of Bornean Hornbills in Malaysia project. This new team of researchers, comprising of locals Ravinder Kaur, Sanjitpaal Singh and Helson Hassan, a skilled carpenter, hopes to improve hornbill-breeding opportunities in the area and enhance the initial artificial nest-box  design.

Mr Hassan told Cage & Aviary Birds: “We are making the nest-box lighter using aluminium and working more with wood materials, instead of plastic drums coated in cement (as done previously).”

So far this year, the team has located three new nest cavities belonging to black (Anthracoceros malayanus) and Oriental pied hornbills in the Kinabatangan forest. Data from these will aid the next batch of artificial nesting sites.

Ms Kaur said these nests are easily located and accessible because they occur in shorter trees (cavities can be as low as 8m (26ft)). She explained: “We can measure the internal humidity and temperature to get an idea of how our artificial nest-boxes should be functioning.”

It is hoped the new boxes will encourage other threatened hornbill species to nest, such as the wrinkled and helmeted (Rhinoplax vigil).

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