Rare video footage has captured the charming first moments of four endangered chicks, which have successfully hatched at Chester Zoo.
Keepers at the zoo believe it to be the first time the bizarre nesting behaviours of the Visayan hornbill have been filmed.
The birds display unique breeding traits in which the female is sealed into the nest; its entrance blocked up with regurgitated food and wood flakes. She then relies entirely on her partner, who remains outside, for food and care during the 55-57 days she spends inside incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks.
Keeper Clare Wylie said:
“There are so many factors involved in helping the species to breed successfully which is extremely important given that there are so few of the birds left in the wild.
“Being able to see exactly what goes on inside the nest, for the very time, is really exciting and can only help us learn more and more about them. You can clearly see the male bringing locusts to the nest, poking them through the small gap in the entrance, which the birds have previously ‘mudded up’ and passing them to the female who then gives them to her chicks to eat.
“Seeing this enables us to learn about their reproductive ecology and study what makes these beautiful, yet complex, birds tick. Some of the information we’ve gleamed from the footage could be really important for conservation action in the wild.”
The species is found in rainforests on the islands of Masbate, Panay and Negros in the Philippines where Chester Zoo works closely with the government to help support breeding and reintroductions of the hornbills, to establish new populations in key protected areas.
Chester Zoo was the first zoo in the world to keep and breed Visayan hornbills outside of the Philippines, when its first chicks hatched in 2008.
Eleven young have since been successfully reared and moved on to other zoos in Europe as part of an important population acting as an ‘insurance policy’ to the wild. It is now hoped the four latest arrivals will also go on to play a key role in the international breeding programme for the highly threatened species.
The Visayan tarictic hornbills can be seen in the zoo’s Tropical Realm and Islands in Danger exhibit.
• According to the IUCN’s red list of threatened species, the population in the wild may now be below 1,000 individuals and is listed as an endangered species
• Deforestation, hunting and trapping are their major threats and there has been a heavy decline in population as a result
• Visayan Tarictic Hornbills live in groups and frequent the canopy of rainforests. These birds are noisy and emit an incessant sound that sounds like ta-rik-tik, hence the name
• The Visayan Tarictic hornbill has a diet primarily of fruit, and uses its long bill to reach selected items and toss them back into its gullet. It also feeds on insects, earthworms, fish and lizards
About Chester Zoo’s conservation work with hornbills
• The Philippines are home to nine species of hornbill, all of which are endemic and six of which are threatened with extinction. In response to this situation the ‘Philippines Hornbill Conservation Programme’, working closely with the Philippine Government, was established in 1994. The programme aims to ensure the future survival of the remaining Philippine hornbill species and, through the use of hornbills as a ¬flagship species, bolster habitat protection activities and promote conservation in local communities
• A major programme component includes local conservation breeding support and reintroductions, to establish new populations in key protected areas
• Chester Zoo also supports hornbill conservation on the island of Panay through the ‘Philippine Endemic Species Conservation Programme’, strengthening the wild population of the Visayan Writhed-billed and Tarictic Hornbills through a nest protection and anti-poaching project, again relying heavily on the employment and participation of local community members
• This species has a very small, severely fragmented population which is undergoing a very rapid continuing decline as a result of lowland deforestation and hunting. For these reasons it is listed as endangered.