As their name suggests Great Hornbills are big, in fact they are the biggest of the Asian Hornbill species.

These impressive black and white birds are also incredibly long lived. Our oldest Great Hornbill is just over 20 years but could reach an age of 50! Our Great Hornbills are part of a European Endangered Species Breeding Programme. As with many hornbill species, the female Great Hornbill nests in hollows of large tree trunks. She seals herself in, leaving just a narrow slit through which the male passes her food. 

She incubates her eggs here for over a month and once hatched, the chicks remain with her in the nest for a further 3 months. The chicks have no trace of the impressive yellow head casque characteristic of Great Hornbills. This starts to form in their second year and takes five years to fully develop.

In the wild, Great Hornbills need huge areas of pristine forest, which they are reliant upon for food and nesting sites. Just as the hornbills are reliant on the forests, in turn, the forests also need the hornbills. This is because Great Hornbills eat a huge variety of fruits, berries and figs and fly great distances; making them a major disperser of rainforest seeds. Without the hornbills, the forests would not be able to regenerate.

You can find our magnificent Great Hornbills in the Tropical Realm and Elephants of the Asians Plains exhibits.

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Interesting facts

Where they live: Asia, from India in the west to Sumatra in the east.

Habitat: Large tracts of primary evergreen forest, from the lowlands up to 2000 metres above sea level.

Diet: Fruit, berries, especially many different types of figs. Also many different types of large insects, small reptiles, mammals and birds.

Weight: 2.2 – 3.4kg

Threats: Loss of rainforest habitat, due to logging and clearance of land for farming. Hunting for food and tribal medicine. Capture for the cage bird trade.

Species Information

Scientific name Buceros bicornis
Order Coraciiformes
Family Bucerotidae
Genus Buceros
IUCN status Near Threatened
Roles in the zoo

In situ Conservation Ambassador

Habitat conservation: This is a species that we support through our habitat-focused conservation projects and programmes around the world.


Interdependence: This species helps demonstrate that all living things, including humans, live in ecosystems and depend on other living things for their survival.

Human Impact: This species helps demonstrate that human activities are causing serious environmental damage.

Partnerships: This species helps demonstrate that we work in partnerships with other organisations to conserve nature and natural resources.

Chester Zoo: This species helps demonstrate that as a charity Chester Zoo’s mission is to be a major force in conserving biodiversity worldwide.

You! This species helps demonstrate that we can all make changes to help the environment and zoos can help inspire people to do this.

Husbandry Development and/or Skills Training: This is a species for which we’re developing particular husbandry methods to address an identified issue and/or helping to build staff capacity in specific husbandry or field conservation skills.