By Jo Gregson
First Published in The Avicultural Magazine Vol. 107 No. 4
Copyright © 2001 Avicultural Society, Published with Permission

The BreedingPAPUANWREATHEDHORNBILLPapuan Wreathed HornbillAceros plicatus, otherwise named PAPUANWREATHEDHORNBILLPapuan Wreathed HornbillBlyth's Hornbill, is an irregular breeder in captivity. However, as we have begun to learn more about its avicultural requirements more successes have occurred. Asian hornbills can be quite a challenge: these species are intelligent and sensitive to change and take longer to form pairs; young males are vulnerable to bullying by older females; heated accommodation is necessary and a higher protein diet is needed for them to rear their chicks successfully. These and several other factors make them more difficult to maintain and breed compared to their African counterparts.

The pair of Papuan Wreathed Hornbills came to our collection on December 20th 2000. They are housed in an aviary which measures 3m x 5m x 4m high (approx. 9ft 9in x 16ft 4in x 13ft high), with an adjoining inside area measuring 2m x 3m x 4m high (approx. 6ft 6in x 9ft 9in x l3ft high). In the summertime the outside temperature ranges from l0° C-23°C (50°F-73°F), with the average being about 16°C (60°F). During the wintertime the birds are shut in the inside area that at night is heated to an average 15°C (59°F). In the summertime the inside temperature occasionally reaches 25°C (77°F).

Two nest-boxes are provided. The one in which the pair bred measures 60cm x 70cm x 60.5cm high (approx. 2ft x 2ft 3in x 2ft 1in high), with a 15cm x 15cm (6in x 6in) entrance hole 12.5cm (approx. 5in) from the bottom on the left-band side of the 60cm (approx. 2ft) side. The box is 2.5m (approx. 8ft 2in) above the floor of the inside area. The other nest-box, which is in the outside aviary, measures 66cm x 40cm x 50cm high (approx. 2ft 2in x 1ft 3in x 1ft 7in high) and is 3m (approx. 9ft 9in) above the ground. The entrance hole measures 20cm x 20cm (approx. 8in x 8in) and is at the centre of the narrow end where there is a small landing ledge. This is the same type of box used by our Wrinkled HornbillAceros corrugatusWrinkled A. corrugatus, Trumpeter HornbillTrumpeter CeratogymnaCERATOGYMNABycanistes or Ceratogymna bucinatorCERATOGYMNA and Northern Ground Hornbills Bucorvus abyssinicus.

The diet consists of a varied fruit mix, along with mealworms, mice, cooked minced (ground) beef and boiled egg. SA37 is sprinkled onto the food. When the chicks were due to hatch pinkies were added to the diet, then after eight days, 'small fluffs', and by day 25 'large fluffs' and small adult mice were offered.

The pair did not seal the nest-box entrance. The female was often seen out of the box and the male was sometimes seen in the box with the female and chicks. The first chick left the nest-box at 100 days and spent a few days on the floor before mastering the art of jumping from perch to perch. Once one chick has fledged it is important to watch for any others remaining in the nest, and this was the case with our birds. Three days after the first chick fledged the female began spending less time in the nest-box and, on inspection, the second chick, still quite heavy in blood quills, was found to be very soiled. As it probably had some time to go before fledging, we decided to clean it and then placed it in an open-fronted box on the floor of the aviary, where it remained for several days and was fed by both parents.

As the first chick to fledge was also soiled and spent some time on the floor of the aviary, I think that it fledged too soon and may have left the box at 100 days because the inside of the box was dirty. The chicks would have been better prepared at 115 days.

Once both were fully feathered, on fine days they were lightly sprayed with water to help improve the condition of their plumage. Asian hornbills have a large and very active preen gland and when these birds are handled they are found to be greasy and have a distinctive smell. The red, yellow and orange bill colours of some of these species are obtained from the oils of this gland. As these birds spend much of the day preening and oiling their feathers, our chicks soon had waterproof plumage. Both chicks when they fledged had male-type plumage. However, at four months of age, the head of one of them began to sprout black feathers and this proved to be a female. The beak of the other bird, a male, had by then grown longer than that of the adult female. The two were separated from their parents at five months of age, by which time the female seemed to have tired of their company.

As described above, the Papuan Wreathed Hornbill Aceros plicatus, also called Blyth's Hornbill, has been bred at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park. This is probably the first successful breeding of this species in Great Britain or Ireland. Anyone who knows of a previous breeding is asked to inform the Hon. Secretary.

I know that this species has nested at Cricket St Thomas and Linton Zoo, but so far as I am aware, in neither collection were the chicks reared successfully. Hornbills in Zoos - a Review by Dr Harro Strehlow published in International Zoo News Vol. 48/2 (March 2001), reviews the breeding of hornbills in collections throughout the world and is recommended reading for those interested in these species. At El Retiro Park, Malaga, the young Papuan Wreathed Hornbill left the nest cavity after 126 days - Ed.