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Photo - Bopanna-Pattada
Photo – Bopanna Pattada

I had gone to cover the Wild Wood Spa, a resort in Kundapur, which is spread out over a large area with hundreds of ancient trees on the property. As we were walking around the property the owner Mr Shetty pointed up to the broad trunk of a ficus tree. In a hole in the trunk which was sealed with mud,  a large bird’s beak poked out of a slit.

” It’s a female Indian grey hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) incubating it’s eggs. When the eggs are laid the female sits on them and the male bird gives her pellets of mud and she seals herself into the cavity along with her excreta, so that only her beak protudes outside.  Then the male flies to and fro, feeding her through the incubation period.”

We stood at a safe distance and watched the male fly laboriously back and forth feeding it’s mate diligently and marveled at the wonder of mother nature, up close and personal. However in the context of this story, it is very heartening to note that the Indian Grey Hornbill is being found across the newer suburbs of Bangalore city and the birders of Bangalore are very excited with this phenomenon.

Reading up about the bird on the net, the Indian grey hornbill  is considered a common hornbill found in India. The bird is mostly arboreal  and is commonly sighted in pairs. Grey in colour, it has a light grey or dull white belly. The horn is black or dark grey with a casque or helmet like structure, extending to the  curve of the beak. It is one of the few hornbill species found in urban areas in many cities where they are able to make use of large trees in institutions with large acreage. The flight is heavy and involves flapping interspersed with glides. They are found in pairs or small groups.

The flight feathers of the wing are dark brown with a whitish tip. The tail has a white tip and a dark subterminal band. They have a red iris and the eyelids have eyelashes. The casque is short and pointed and the male has a larger casque on a dark bill, and the lower mandible is yellowish. The call is a squealing high pitched call, like that of a common Black kite.

Photo - Uma Bharath
Photo – Uma Bharath

Uma Bharath  who lives in Sanjay Nagar, in North Bangalore says, ” We feel blessed indeed to have such visitors, thanks to our farm-owning neighbour. His farm surely is ‘Owner’s envy, neighbour’s pride!’  There are three of the hornbills roosting nearby and they love the fig tree just outside our balcony.”

Dr. Subramanya a very knowledgeable bird lover says,”  I sighted a pair of Indian Grey Hornbills at GKVK. This  adds a new species to the list of the Birds of GKVK. Drawn by the species’ unmistakable call, I went to confirm, only to find a pair of these wonderful birds at the Biodiesel Plant Nursery and they were already departing towards the Botanical Garden. This is the first record of the species for GKVK since the late 1970, from when I have been observing birds at this campus. I would be interesting to know if someone has already seen the species at GKVK before.”

Dr Subbu goes on to say that the Indian Grey Hornbills were quite uncommon before and are seen sporadically in Bangalore since the last several years and a pair was being seen regularly at Sanjay Nagar. During the first Sunday bird watchers outing this month,  he says a pair was observed at Hebbal Lake by all the five  who were present at the outing. This makes him believe that  that the species is slowly spreading its wings across Bangalore and may become more common in the years to come.

Photo - Chandrakantha Ursu
Photo – Chandrakantha Ursu

Look at the picture by Chandrakantha Ursu and one can note that the key fruiting trees on which the hornbills fed were Ficus among other fruiting trees. They are also known to feed on molluscs, scorpions, insects, small birds Like rose ringed parakeets chicks and reptiles in their diet.

They are almost completely arboreal, but very rarely descend to the ground to pick up fallen fruits, to dust bathe,[16] or to pick up mud pellets to seal the nest cavity during the nesting period.[17] They indulge in various social activities, including bill-grappling and aerial jousting

” We are only 30 Kms from Town Hall on Mysore Road. I have been seeing Grey Hornbills here in Eagleton Campus for the last three years that we have been here. So I am bit surprised that in Bangalore City there has been rare sightings,” says birder Pervez Younus

Malini Shanker shares that ,” Recently when we were filming in Lalbagh around the lake, I thought I saw a grey hornbill enter a tree canopy.  I was very surprised and told myself grey hornbills cannot occur in Bangalore, and convinced myself that it must be a heron. Am pleasantly surprised and its heart warming to find a new a new winged neighbour.”

Photo By Srinivasan Narayanan
Photo By Srinivasan Narayanan

Glenn Christo another birder said,” We live on a farmhouse on Sarjapur Road, about 14 km southeast of the Outer Ring Road. On our walks through the farms away from the main road we have seen grey hornbills several times. One evening three of them perched for a while in the tall trees of our farmhouse.  It was a wonderful surprise.”

” There seem to be several records in 2016 from GKVK and around as well (Kodigehalli, NCBS, Yelahanka etc.)shares Dr. Prashanth NS.

While Subrahmanya CN says, ” Grey Hornbill spoting in Bangalore should not be very very rare even in my opinion, I have heard from my pals and from my nephew they have spotted grey Hornbill at few places in Bangalore (like in RBI layout – JP Nagar) ”

Birder Bopanna Pattada who runs India Birding Adventures shares, ” The Indian Grey Hornbill is especially fond of ficus trees and if you see a ficus in fruit around the outskirts of Bangalore then there is a good chance of seeing an Indian Grey Hornbill coming in to feed on the figs. Valley school and surroundings is a great place to spot these birds sometimes in large numbers.”

Marianne Furtado de Nazareth is Freelance Science and Environment Journalist , adjunct faculty, St. Joseph’s PG College, Bangalore & PhD scholar, Madurai Kamaraj, University

5 Comments

  1. Sheena Desai says:

    That is an amazingly ugly bird. Have seen them in Kerala.We need to protect them.

  2. K SHESHU BABU says:

    This also tells about the importance of growing trees. Bangalore is one of the fortunate cities with some trees left. Otherwise, such birds would find difficult to live in concrete jungles.

  3. what an educative article. glad they’re being sighted in the city…

  4. janet thomson says:

    What a wonderful story of hope for wildlife from the compassionate and brilliant Marianne Furtado De Nazareth! Thank you Marianne! A very enjoyable read!

  5. I so enjoyed the story. Never knew such a bird existed.
    Thank you so much !