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Helmeted Hornbill

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

A Helmeted Hornbill perched on a stand. Find the original here.



Population Estimate:  No determined population size ↓DECREASING↓


Brief Description

In Indonesia, Southern Thailand, and Myanmer, a unique but endangered bird, more at risk than the elephants, resides in the lowland forests of the evergreen or semi-evergreen  (750 meters above sea level at maximum). Preferably occupying the coarse terrain like foothills, the Helmeted Hornbill, Rhinoplax vigil, stands at 110-120 cm with dark brown and white tail feathers and a red helmet-like structure called a casque that has a yellow tip. Each generation of these birds live for about 19.8 years and will typically remain within their own territory, refusing to migrate and adhering to their territory.

They breed across 3.54 million square kilometers (about 1.37 million square miles), but the total area of the forest within their range has decreased by 78,000 square kilometers (about 30,000 square miles) between 2000 and 2012. They primarily feed on figs and fruits but occassionally feed on small animals (i.e. snakes, squirrels, and even other hornbill species). According to Yokyok “Yoki” Hadiprakarsa of the Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society, the Helmeted Hornbill is the biggest and most successful seed dispenser in Asian tropical forests. Without the Helmeted Hornbill, Indonesian forests would severely suffer from the loss of a significant method to spread diverse species of trees and plants.

From the ever-increasing deforestation and extreme poaching of the hornbill for the ivory casque (French for helmet), the population of the Helmeted Hornbill is declining dramatically without any end in sight. The poaching of the Helmeted Hornbill is only expected to increase as the value of its ivory casques, which was $4,000 per kilogram in 2012, continually grows. In the Malaysian states and Indonesia, the enforcement against poaching, the leading cause of their endangerment, has diminished and allowed the organized crime of the ivory trade to expand. Despite the protection of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the selling of ivory casques continues to prosper and cost thousands of lives. For example, West Kalimantan in 2013 experienced an annual death rate of the population at 6,000 individuals, and most areas with Helmeted Hornbills may contain similar death rates. Due to increased poverty within surrounding areas and higher protection of elephants suffering from the ivory trade, more and more people within the ivory trade desperate enough resort to poaching these birds to support their families and/or themselves.

Not only do the Helmeted Hornbill experience the pressures of the ivory trade, but the Helmeted Hornbill suffers from severe habitat loss due to deforestation of the local trees in Indonesia. During their 6-month reproduction cycle, females live in a hollow area within a tree, concealed by a mud barrier, to deliver one or two fledglings, so the male must gather food for the female. Utilizing the red gular patch, a patch of wrinkly skin underneath the throat to store food, the male can deliver food to the female through the crack in the mud wall by regurgitating the food. When poachers kill the male before he can deliver food to the mate and the fledgling, the female and offspring will starve to death, eliminating the entire family. Although females can break out if necessary, the reproduction cycle often compromises their strength and endurance which can inhibit them from escaping. As the presence of forest fires and illegal logging inclines within nearby areas, thousands of trees which are potential nesting grounds and fig trees feeding them die from this deforestation, straining the helmeted hornbill population.

Written by — Edward Keenan


Fun Facts

  1. The Helmeted Hornbill creates “poohooh” calls with its high-pitched voice that ends in a cackle.

  2. The wingspan of the Helmeted Hornbill is two meters wide, which is bigger than the average human.

  3. This species is the largest hornbill species and is the only hornbill species with an ivory casque.

  4. The indigenous Dayak people revere the birds as gifts from the gods and messengers of the spirits.

  5. In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the Helmeted Hornbill is on the coat of arms.


How You Can Help

Help villages within Indonesian areas through charities like Habitat of Humanity to deter locals from joining the malicious trade and poaching of Helmeted Hornbills.

To help send petitions that will demand the end of poaching, sign up for the petition to China, Malyasia, and Indonesia to end poaching of Helmeted Hornbills by restricting the trade of ivory, especially in China.

Donate to the Conservation Leadership Program who build safer and stronger nest boxes to house the Helmeted Hornbills to insure the protection of their families from poaching.

Support BirdLife’s plan to eliminate poaching of Helmeted Hornbills within 10 years by following the organization.

Petition / Donation Links


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