Cyrano of the Jungle

Great Hornbill_full shot

“This Punchinello figure–such a nose! My lords, there is no such nose as that nose. You cannot look upon it without crying: ‘Oh no, Impossible! Exaggerated!’ Then you smile and say: ‘of course–I might have known; presently he will take it off.’ But Monsieur de Bergerac will never do.”

–Ragueneau, “Cyrano de Bergerac”

The Bird

Riotous in color and behavior, the great hornbill is a great spectacle. Nearly every characteristic, from feeding and breeding to sound and appearance, demands attention.

Much like in the jungle, on the Wall of Birds—a 70′ x 40′ mural at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology depicting the 375-million-year evolution of birds—the great hornbill dominates its home range of southeast Asia, its banded tail hanging off the continent like a feathery peninsula.

The Wall of Birds depicts the 375 million year evolution of birds, showing 271 species drawn to scale. The historic mural will be the only one in the world showcasing all the families of modern birds in one place. (Image courtesy Ink Dwell)

More than three feet long with a five-foot wingspan, it is the biggest of all hornbills. Easy to hear and difficult to turn away from, it calls with a raucous growl and in-flight the hornbill has more in common with a jet engine than a stealthy owl. Lacking sound-damping under-wing covert feathers, flying hornbills have been compared to everything from woodwind orchestras to locomotives. In southern India a local name for the bird translates to ‘mountain shaking.’

Monogamous breeders, they practice a unique form of solitary confinement. The female is sealed into the hole of a tree and spends up to four months ordering delivery from her mate while she lays her eggs, molts, and rears the chicks. Their nesting habits are of such curiosity that one group of scientists felt compelled to spend 183 hours studying —> Read More