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10 Fascinating Things to Know About the Brown Hornbill

The Brown Hornbill (Anorrhinus austeni) is a member of the hornbill family and is named for its brown plumage. These birds are native to the forests of Southeast Asia and are known for their distinctive appearance and unique calls.

In this article, we will explore the field identification, similar species, plumages, and molts of this fascinating bird species.


Field Identification

The Brown Hornbill is a medium-sized bird that measures about 55 cm in length. It has a distinctive brown plumage with a black tail and wings.

The head is white, and the bill is long and curved, making it easy to distinguish from other bird species.

Similar Species

The Brown Hornbill may be confused with the Oriental Pied Hornbill, which has a similar bill shape. However, the Oriental Pied Hornbill has a black and white plumage, whereas the Brown Hornbill has a brown plumage.


The Brown Hornbill undergoes two main plumages: juvenile and adult. Juvenile Plumage: The juvenile plumage is similar to the adult plumage, but the bill is smaller and less curved.

Additionally, the head of the juvenile is brown instead of white. Adult Plumage: The adult plumage is characterized by a white head and a brown body.

The beak is long and curved, with a black tip.


The Brown Hornbill undergoes an annual molt, in which the birds replace their old feathers with new ones. During the molt, the birds are unable to fly and may be more susceptible to predators.


In conclusion, the Brown Hornbill is a fascinating bird species found in the forests of Southeast Asia. With their distinctive brown plumage and long curved beak, they are easily recognizable from other bird species.

This article has explored field identification, similar species, plumages, and molts of the Brown Hornbill, providing bird enthusiasts with valuable information about this fascinating species.

Systematics History

The Brown Hornbill (Anorrhinus austeni) is a member of the hornbill family and falls under the Bucerotidae family. It was first described in 1910 by Herbert C.

Robinson, who named it after Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen, the British geologist and mountaineer. The Brown Hornbill is a relatively new species, with its taxonomy and systematics still under study.

Geographic Variation

The Brown Hornbill’s geographic variation is not well documented. However, there have been studies that suggest different populations of the Brown Hornbill may have different vocalizations.

The birds found in distinct geographical areas may have a unique vocal structure that differentiates them from other populations. Besides vocalization, there may also be other physical differences between different populations of the Brown Hornbill.


Currently, there are no recognized subspecies of the Brown Hornbill. However, due to the bird populations isolation in different regions of the species range, taxonomists may identify subspecies in the future.

Establishing the subspecies can be currently challenging due to the lack of comprehensive studies on Brown Hornbill populations.

Related Species

The Brown Hornbill has several closely related species that fall under the same genus, Anorrhinus. These include the Black Hornbill, which is also known as the Helmeted Hornbill, Rufous-Necked Hornbill, White-Crowned Hornbill, Wrinkled Hornbill, Tickell’s Hornbill, and Narcondam Hornbill.

The Brown Hornbill’s closest relative is the White-Crowned Hornbill (A. galeritus), which is found in the Philippines and Borneo.

Both species are similar in size and have the same facial pattern and bill structure.

Historical Changes in Distribution

The Brown Hornbill’s historical distribution is not entirely clear. However, studies have shown that the species’ range has shrunk significantly over the years.

The Brown Hornbill is a forest-dependent species and relies heavily on forested areas and woodland habitats. Due to deforestation and habitat loss across Southeast Asia, the Brown Hornbill’s population has declined.

In the past, the Brown Hornbill was widely distributed across Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. However, today its distribution is patchy.

The species is now mainly found in southern Myanmar, central and southern Thailand, and parts of Cambodia. In the northern parts of its range, the Brown Hornbill’s populations are sporadic, and they are rarely seen in the northern parts of the species range, where the forests have been destroyed.

In conclusion, the Brown Hornbill’s taxonomy and systematics are still under study, and its geographic variation and subspecies are yet to be determined. The Brown Hornbill is related to several other species of hornbills, and its nearest relative is the White-Crowned Hornbill.

The species’ historical distribution was more substantial than it is today due to loss of habitat, and deforestation caused the populations to shrink to a patchy distribution in Southeast Asia. Urgent measures are needed to ensure the conservation of this species and the protection of its habitats in the region.


The Brown Hornbill is a forest-dependent species and is found in dense evergreen and deciduous forests, as well as secondary woodlands. These birds require large trees with nesting cavities, and they are most commonly found in lower elevation forests and hilly areas.

The bird is also found in primary forests, swamp forests, bamboo, and riverine forests. They are most commonly found at elevations of up to 1,500 meters, but they can also be observed at higher elevations of up to 2,300 meters.

Movements and Migration

The Brown Hornbill is a sedentary species, which means that it does not undertake long-distance migrations. These birds remain in their territories all year round and do not move unless their local environment is disturbed.

However, these birds may make some seasonal movements, especially during breeding season, when they expand their range in search of food and nesting sites. Generally, the Brown Hornbill is known as a slow and clumsy flyer.

The bird spends a lot of time perched on trees, and it moves between trees by hopping and fluttering its wings. The Brown Hornbill is also known to fly in small family groups across short distances.

Although the Brown Hornbill does not undertake long-distance migrations, the bird does exhibit some movements and displacement in response to habitat disturbances. When forests are destroyed, the birds are forced to move to other locations to find new habitats.

These movements can expose the birds to new threats and place them in a vulnerable state. To ensure the long-term survival of the Brown Hornbill, it’s vital to conserve the forests they inhabit, as habitat loss is the biggest threat facing the species.

The conservation of the species can only be achieved by protecting and preserving the bird’s habitat. Governments, conservation organizations, and other stakeholders must work together to curb deforestation and ensure responsible logging practices to protect the species’ habitat.

The establishment and management of protected areas and the establishment of wildlife corridors will also contribute to conserving these birds in the wild. In

Conclusion, the Brown Hornbill is a sedentary species that remains in its territory throughout the year.

They rely on their habitats for food, and breeding sites to raise chicks. The bird depends on various forest types, which are suitable for hunting and nesting.

Consequently, preserving habitats of these birds is crucial to ensure their survival. Although the Brown Hornbill does not undertake long-distance migrations, there are some movements and displacement in response to habitat disturbances.

Urgent measures are necessary to conserve and protect these birds by conserving their habitats and ensuring responsible logging practices.

Diet and Foraging


The Brown Hornbill is a omnivorous bird that feeds mainly on fruits, insects, spiders, and other small animals. The bird’s diet depends on the regional availability of food, and they may consume various kinds of fruits and invertebrates throughout their range.

The bird uses its long, curved beak to access fruits and small branches where insects are hiding.


Fruit forms the most significant part of the Brown Hornbill’s diet, accounting for about 80 to 90% of its intake. These birds prefer wild figs, berries, and palm fruits.

However, when fruit is scarce, they shift to insects and other small prey as their primary food source. The bird also feeds on arthropods, including spiders and insects that cross their paths, which it catches in the air or on the ground.

These birds also consume small amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals, especially when fruit and insects are scarce.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Brown Hornbill maintains a constant body temperature of around 40-41 degrees Celsius, similar to most birds. The bird’s metabolism works hard to sustain its body temperature to facilitate survival in its forest habitats.

This bird relies heavily on its food intake for energy, and it has very efficient methods of digesting its food, thanks to the presence of a highly acidic stomach.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Brown Hornbill has a distinctive call that can be used to identify the bird in the forest. The bird emits a series of cackling and crowing sounds, with each vocalization raising in pitch.

The calls are repeated several times, and the rhythm and pace of the call change frequently. The male’s call is similar to the female, but it is louder and sounds more distinct.

These calls are important for communication among group members and are essential in claiming their territories. Juvenile Brown Hornbills have distinct vocalizations, and these change as they grow and mature into adults.

Apart from the calls, the Brown Hornbill makes another vocalization that is distinctive. The bird produces a loud, raucous sound by clapping its mandibles together.

This behavior, also, is usually a sign of territorial advertising and greeting among family members.

In conclusion, The Brown Hornbill is a versatile feeder, feeding mainly on fruits, insects, and other small animals.

The bird’s diet varies depending on the seasonal availability of food in its range. The bird’s metabolism is highly efficient, ensuring it maximizes its food intake to maintain a constant body temperature.

The bird’s vocal behavior is characterized by cackling and crowing sounds that are distinctive, used for territorial advertising, and in identifying the bird. Therefore, conservation efforts must aim to protect and preserve the Brown Hornbill’s natural habitat to prevent habitat loss and ensure food availability for the bird.



The Brown Hornbill is a skilled climber that uses its strong claws and beak to move around trees. The bird mainly flies across short distances, hopping and fluttering its wings.

The Brown Hornbill may fly in small groups or alone, depending on their behavior and social structure.

Self Maintenance

The Brown Hornbills, like most bird species, engage in feather maintenance, especially during the molt period and the breeding season. They engage in preen-maintenance behaviors to keep their feathers in good condition, which is essential for temperature regulation, flight, and display.

Agonistic Behavior

The Brown Hornbills engage in agonistic behavior and use various displays and calls to claim territories and to secure mates. These displays include aerial displays, head-bobbing, and body shuddering, as well as aggressive calls and postures, and vocalizations that vary depending on the occasion.

Sexual Behavior

The Brown Hornbills are monogamous birds that establish long-term bonds. The breeding pairs are territorial and aggressively defend their nesting site against intruders.

To show off their territories and attract a mate, the male birds perform aerial displays with their primary feathers extended and giving off a distinctive call.


The Brown Hornbills breed once a year, typically during the dry season. They breed between February and July in most parts of their range.

During the breeding season, the bonded pairs build their nests in tree hollows, which they move into before they start breeding.

The female lays her eggs in the nesting hollow, which she lines with leaves and soft materials.

Once the chicks hatch, the parents carry out co-parenting whereby both parents actively feed the chicks by regurgitation. The parents work together to protect the chicks from predators and to raise them until they fledge.

The fledging period takes about 40-50 days, after which the chicks leave the nest to start their independent lives.

Demography and Populations

The Brown Hornbill is currently a widespread but rare species, with a declining population trend. The species’ population is declining due to habitat destruction and degradation caused by logging, agricultural expansion, and anthropogenic activities.

Recent studies suggest that the Brown Hornbill’s overall population is in decline, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed it as a species of “near threatened”. These factors, coupled with the bird’s slow breeding rate, make it particularly vulnerable to extinction if adequate conservation measures are not put in place.

To ensure the conservation of the Brown Hornbill, we must prioritize the conservation of its habitat. This includes the preservation of primary and secondary forest habitats, and adopting responsible logging practices.

We also need to create wildlife corridors to enable the movement of these birds and protect their habitats within protected areas. In conclusion, the Brown Hornbill displays various forms of behavior, including locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior.

The bird breeds once a year, where they establish long-term bonds and take part in co-parenting the chicks. The species’ populations are in decline due to habitat destruction and degradation, necessitating the implementation of conservation measures to protect the birds.

The success of the conservation efforts will require the cooperation of all stakeholders, including governments, landowners, and conservation organizations. In conclusion, the Brown Hornbill is a fascinating bird species found in the forests of Southeast Asia.

This article has provided valuable information on various topics, including the bird’s systematics history, habitat, movements and migration, diet and foraging, sounds and vocal behavior, behavior, breeding, demography and populations. The article has emphasized the significant threats facing the species, including habitat loss and degradation, and the need to implement conservation measures to protect the bird from extinction.

The conservation of the Brown Hornbill’s natural habitat is vital to the species’ survival, and it is the responsibility of everyone to contribute to the conservation efforts. Together, we can ensure the protection of this beautiful bird species and help preserve our planet’s rich biodiversity.

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