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A photo of a Blyth's Hornbill (Rhyticeros plicatus), male
Blyth's Hornbill, Male

Blyth's Hornbill

Rhyticeros plicatus

The Blyth's hornbill, also known as the Papuan hornbill, is a magnificent avian species, Rhyticeros plicatus, that graces the forest canopy with its presence in Wallacea and Melanesia. Named in honor of the esteemed English zoologist Edward Blyth, this bird is a true marvel of nature. The adult male is a striking figure with predominantly black plumage, complemented by a golden or orange-buff head, a white throat, and a white tail that contrasts sharply with its dark body. The female, slightly smaller in stature, shares the black plumage and white accents of the throat and tail. Both sexes boast a very large horn-coloured bill and casque, a distinctive feature of hornbills. The casque of the adults is adorned with up to eight folds, a testament to their age, while the juveniles display none.

Identification Tips

When observing Blyth's hornbill, look for the large size and the contrasting colors of the head, throat, and tail. The male's golden head and the female's smaller size can help differentiate between the sexes. The casque on the bill is also a key identification feature, with the number of folds indicating the bird's maturity.

Habitat

Blyth's hornbill is a denizen of the lowland forests, where it can be found from sea level up to elevations of 1,200–1,500 meters above sea level.

Distribution

This species has a broad range, extending through the Moluccas, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and reaching as far east as the Solomon Islands. It is the sole hornbill species native to New Guinea and is among the largest flying birds in the region.

Behaviour

In flight, the Blyth's hornbill is known for the loud and distinctive rushing noise produced by its wings, reminiscent of steam escaping from a locomotive. Its repertoire of sounds includes a variety of far-reaching, guttural grunts and laughs that carry through the forest.

Song & Calls

The vocalizations of the Blyth's hornbill are as impressive as its appearance, with a range of deep, resonant calls that echo through the trees.

Breeding

The breeding habits of the Blyth's hornbill involve the female being sealed within a tree hollow high above the ground, where she remains throughout incubation and nestling periods. The male dutifully feeds her through a narrow aperture, and the typical clutch consists of about two eggs.

Similar Species

While there are no similar species within its range, the Blyth's hornbill has been historically lumped with the plain-pouched hornbill and considered to include the Narcondam hornbill and the wreathed hornbill as subspecies.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the Blyth's hornbill is predominantly frugivorous, with a particular fondness for figs. However, it also supplements its diet with insects and other small animals when the opportunity arises.

Conservation Status

The Blyth's hornbill is currently assessed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Despite being widespread, it faces hunting pressures in some regions, where its feathers, bill, and mandible are used by local tribes for adornment and tools. However, it has endured human hunting for millennia, and as long as its habitat remains intact, hunting alone is unlikely to pose a significant threat.

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Blyth's Hornbills on Birda

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