Thailand Hornbill Project, Part 1

By Christine Bui

I worked as a zookeeper in Sacramento from 2007-2010 before pursuing a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University. As someone who worked with hornbill birds at the Sacramento Zoo, I was interested in getting involved with the Thailand Hornbill Project (THP) and learning more about the behavior and ecology of hornbills. 16,000 miles later, I have completed just that.

This past January I was fortunate enough to visit Thailand and volunteer for the Thailand Hornbill Project.  THP is a project that studies the biology and ecology of Thai hornbills. THP also runs community-based conservation programs. The Sacramento Zoo has supported this project since 2006 through participation in their nest adoption program in southern Thailand.

There are three areas in Thailand where THP monitors, studies, and support hornbill projects. I spent about a week and a half at Khao Yai National Park. The park is home to 4 of the 13 species of hornbills found in Thailand: Great, Oriental Pied, Brown, and Wreathed.

In the wild, suitable nest cavity sites are a limiting factor for the breeding success of hornbills. Hornbills have a unique breeding behavior in that the female imprisons herself in a nest cavity and is fully dependent on the male to provide for her until the chicks have fledged. From start to finish, the female can be in a nest cavity for 2-3 months. Illegal logging has been a major contributor to habitat loss, and therefore affects the reproductive strategies of hornbills.

The THP has mapped about 300 hornbill nest cavities in Khao Yai. Just over 200 are monitored by a group of only four researchers annually! Due to a breeding season that begins in January and can last until May/June, the four researchers are unable to visit each of the 200 nest sites annually for repairs. Instead the researchers rely on meticulous records to determine which nests are active, and which need their attention. Keeping nests in good repair is critical to the breeding success of the hornbills.

Find out what my job was in helping the hornbills in the next installment!

Nest cavity, with hand for scale
Hornbills in a tree

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