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Hornbills are colorful birds with a large, down-turned bill, supported by large neck muscles and fused vertebrae.

There are about 60 species of hornbills worldwide, but unfortunately, three of them are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. This means they are facing an extremely high risk of extinction. These are the Sulu hornbill, Walden’s hornbill, and the Helmeted hornbill.

In this article, I look at these three beautiful birds. Due to their rarity, I was unable to get any pictures of the birds.

Photo of red-billed hornbill
Red-billed Hornbill

Sulu Hornbill

IUCN Status: Critically Endangered

The Sulu hornbill is one of the rarest birds in the world. Its whole body is black with a white tail. It has a black casque and a broad bill. Males have pale eyes while those of females are brown. It mostly feeds on fig trees. Although fruit makes up the majority of the species food, it is also possible for them to eat tiny lizards and certain insects.

How many are alive?

1-49 mature individuals

There may be less than 20 pairs of the species. As a result, the population is regarded as being very small and is estimated to have around 1 to 49 adult individuals.

Sulu hornbill was reported as common to abundant in the late 19th century and is believed to have declined quite quickly during the past 10 years.

Where do they live?

It lives in a primary forest, usually on steep slopes, and sporadically visits solitary fruiting trees more than a kilometer away from the nearest forest. Large trees are necessary for nesting.

This species was formerly found on the Philippine islands of Tawi-Tawi, Sanga Sanga, and Jolo. Sadly, it is currently believed to be locally extinct on two of these islands, with the most recent records coming only from Tawi-Tawi.

Threats

Deforestation is one of the main threats to the hornbill. Sanga-Sanga and Jolo (Sulu) appear to have nearly entirely lost their forests. The remaining lowland sections of Tawi-Tawi were severely degraded by the mid-1990s due to the fast clearing of the primary forest.

The remaining forests are still threatened by mining operations and conversion to rubber plantations.
It may have been shot for food and shooting practices due to the recent high rate of gun ownership.

The species may be collected for trade, and juveniles may still be taken for food. Tawi-Tawi may have experienced an upsurge in hunting pressure recently.

Walden’s hornbill

IUCN Status: Critically Endangered

Walden’s hornbill is also called Rufous headed hornbill, Visayan wrinkled hornbill, or Writhed-billed hornbill. It is mostly black, with an orange casque, a wrinkled lower beak, and a cream-colored tail with a black terminal band. Males have rufous heads, a yellow pouch, and yellow areas around their eyes. The female has a smaller beak and casque, a blue and yellow circle around each eye, and a black neck and head.

How many are alive?

1000-2499 mature individuals

The population of this species is thought to have drastically declined in response to threats. Surviving population is estimated to have only 1000-2499 mature individuals.

Where do they live?

It lives in closed-canopy forests, although it also frequently visits logged areas and solitary trees in open fields. With records from 400-1,200m elevation on Panay and 300-950m on Negros, it is suited to lower- to mid-elevation forests.

This species was native to only three islands: Guimaras, Negros, and Panay in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines. It became locally extinct in Guimaras and now only inhabits Negros and Panay.

Threats

Severe deforestation has driven it to become extinct on Guimaras and extremely scarce elsewhere. It largely relies on forest fruits and is therefore negatively impacted by deforestation. The species may have suffered a lot of habitat damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

Hunting has had catastrophic consequences in the past. One estimate claims that up to a fourth of the population of northwest Panay was shot in a single day in 1997, however, the credibility of this allegation is questionable. It prefers to gather in fruiting trees and allegedly congregates near wounded flock members making it particularly susceptible to hunting.

The most serious threat is nest poaching, whether for the sale of females and their chicks for human consumption or in the local bird trade.

Photo of yellow-billed hornbill
Yellow-billed hornbill

Helmeted hornbill

IUCN Status: Critically Endangered

The Helmeted hornbill is a very large bird. It has blackish-brownish feathers predominantly, except for white on the belly, legs, and tail, which also has a black band around each feather’s tip. The bird is longer overall than any other hornbill species because of its long tail and two central tail feathers that are noticeably longer than the others.

This species has a naked, wrinkled neck patch that is scarlet in the males and pale blue to greenish in the females. The casque extends from the bottom of the bill halfway up to the tip.  Both the bill and casque are yellow. Its casque is solid and the entire head, including the bill and casque, may account for 10% of the bird’s body weight.

How many are alive?

There haven’t been any range-wide studies conducted so far, and it’s unclear how many individuals of the species are there in the world. The density of its population can fluctuate substantially depending on habitat quality and hunting pressure. The reported average density in ideal habitat ranges from 0.19 to 2.6 birds/km2 depending on habitat quality and latitude.

Where do they live?

It may be found at elevations of up to 1,500 m in primary semi-evergreen and evergreen lowland forests. It enjoys rough terrain, particularly in the foothills, and may survive locally in selected logged forests, but avoids open areas, peat bogs, and disturbed forests.

The Helmeted Hornbill is found in five range states in the Sunda subregion: Myanmar, Brunei, Thailand, Malaysia (Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak), and Indonesia (Kalimantan and Sumatra).

Threats

Hunters target the species frequently, and it is illegally trafficked. The species possesses a solid casque, which is highly valued. China is the largest buyer of casques, which are frequently carved for decorative purposes.

Populations of Helmeted Hornbills living outside of protected areas are particularly at risk from habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. According to estimates, the Helmeted Hornbill’s range’s forest cover decreased by about 12% between 2000 and 2012.

The loss of appropriate nesting and feeding trees is likely to have a significant impact on the species because of its specialized diet and unique nest site characteristics. Logging activities target tall, living dipterocarps in particular, leading to a decrease in the number of food trees.