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Species Guide
A photo of a Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis), male
Great Hornbill, Male

Great Hornbill

Buceros bicornis

The great hornbill, known scientifically as Buceros bicornis, is a majestic bird, one of the largest in the hornbill family. It is recognized by its impressive size and the striking casque atop its massive bill. This bird, also referred to as the concave-casqued hornbill, great Indian hornbill, or great pied hornbill, is a vibrant part of the ecosystems of the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia.

Identification Tips

Males and females of this species can be distinguished by their eye color; males have red eyes, while females possess a bluish-white iris. Both sexes have a prominent yellow and black casque, but the casque's underside is black in males. The great hornbill's wingspan can reach up to 152 cm, and it weighs between 2 to 4 kg. The bird's heavy wing beats are audible from a distance, often compared to the sound of a steam locomotive starting up.


The great hornbill favors dense, old-growth forests, particularly those undisturbed by logging, in hilly regions. It thrives in large stretches of rainforest, where it can be found from the Western Ghats to the Himalayan foothills and across to Sumatra.


This bird's range extends across the Indian subcontinent, including India, Bhutan, and Nepal, as well as mainland Southeast Asia and Sumatra. However, its distribution is fragmented and has been reduced in many areas due to deforestation.


Great hornbills are social creatures, often seen in small parties and sometimes gathering in large numbers at fruiting trees. They are diurnal and non-migratory, with a home range that varies seasonally. These birds are known for their unique roosting habits, where they congregate in tall trees at sunset and jostle for the highest branches.

Song & Calls

During the breeding season, great hornbills are particularly vocal, engaging in loud duets that include a series of roars and barks. These calls serve as communication between mates and are a distinctive feature of their presence in the forest.


Great hornbills are monogamous and nest in large, tall trees. The female seals herself inside a tree hollow to lay and incubate her eggs, relying entirely on the male for food. This period of seclusion lasts until the chicks are partially grown.

Similar Species

While the great hornbill is unique in its size and casque shape, it can be confused with other hornbill species. However, its distinctive casque and size set it apart from its relatives.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the great hornbill is predominantly frugivorous, with a particular fondness for figs. They also consume other fruits, small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Their role as seed dispersers is crucial for the regeneration of forest trees.

Conservation status

The great hornbill is currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Habitat loss and hunting for its meat and body parts are the primary threats to its survival. Conservation efforts include providing alternative sources of feathers for tribal uses and breeding programs in captivity.

In captivity

Great hornbills are rare in captivity and are known to be challenging to breed. They require a diet of fruits and protein and are sensitive to their environment, often described as highly strung.

In culture

The great hornbill is deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of the regions it inhabits. It is the state bird of Kerala and Arunachal Pradesh in India and features prominently in tribal cultures and rituals. The bird has also been used as a symbol by organizations such as the Bombay Natural History Society.

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Great Hornbills on Birda


More Hornbills

A photo of a Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis) , male

Rufous-necked Hornbill

Aceros nipalensis
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