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7 Fascinating Facts about the Bushy-Crested Hornbill

The bushy-crested hornbill is a large and striking bird species that inhabits the rainforests of Southeast Asia. With its impressive plumage and distinct calls, this bird is hard to miss.

In this article, we will provide an overview of the identification and plumage of the bushy-crested hornbill, as well as its molts, for a better understanding of this magnificent bird.




The bushy-crested hornbill is unmistakable with its bold and bright appearance. The bird measures between 60-70 cm in length and weighs around 1.5-1.8 kg.

It has a large, curved bill with a pale-yellow stripe at the base. The bill’s tip is black, contrasting with the red-orange casque above it.

The bird’s forehead shows a dense white bush of crest feathers, adding a bushy appearance, which gives it its popular name. The head, neck, and upperparts of the bird are black, while the lower belly and tail are white.

Similar Species:

Other species of hornbills share identical features among them sometimes making identification a little difficult. The rufous-necked hornbill, Rhinoplax vigil, have a similar casque in shape, size and black bill, but lacks the bushy crest of the bushy-crested hornbill.


The bushy-crested hornbill has two distinct plumages, the adult and immature. Adult:

In the adult plumage, the bushy-crested hornbill displays contrasting colors on its head, neck, and body.

They have black wings with white-tipped coverts, a white belly, and a bold-black band from the back of their neck to the upper chest. The eye-ring and chin are a bright blue color.

They have an unmistakable red-orange casque made from keratin on the male’s forehead, and a less prominent casque on the female. The casques bring a striking feature to the bird making it attractive to look at.

They have dense bushy crests around the face which are predominantly white with black tips. Immature:

The immature bushy-crested hornbill usually has different plumages before it attains full adulthood.

Juvenile bird is similar in general appearance but have a black all over the body with no white or yellowish bodyparts.


The process of molt is a renewal of feathers. Some birds undergo a partial, seasonal, or complete molt, the latter being a process that takes place when the bird is mature and changes the entirety of its plumage.

The bushy-crested hornbill undergoes an annual complete molt in the breeding season after the eggs are laid. During the molt, the bird replaces its feathers, renewing them for a new cycle.

After the breeding season, they undergo another complete molt, coinciding with the post-breeding season. During the molting season, many bird species tend to become rather silent as the molting process is an energetically strenuous process.

However, the bushy-crested hornbill remains vocal throughout this period, particularly during the mornings, and in fact, are more vocal during the molting period compared to other times of the year.


The bushy-crested hornbill is a majestic bird of Southeast Asia and a sight to behold in the rainforests. We hope that this article has provided you with a clearer understanding of its identification, plumage, and molting patterns.

Whether you are a bird-watching enthusiast or a casual observer, it is always an enriching experience to learn more about the fascinating birds around us. Systematics History:

The bushy-crested hornbill’s systematic history has undergone many changes over the years.

The bird belongs to the family Bucerotidae, which includes the hornbills and hoopoes. The genus Anorrhinus, to which the bushy-crested hornbill belongs, was first recognized in the early 19th century by French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Audebert.

It was initially described as Buceros galeritus before being moved to its current genus.

Geographic Variation:

The bushy-crested hornbill inhabits the forests of Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Peninsular Malaysia.

Within this range, there is geographical variation in the bird’s appearance, mainly in terms of the size and hues of its casque and the color of its feathers. In general, the northern populations of the species have smaller casques, while the southern ones have larger ones.

The feathers on the bird’s back also vary from rufous, chestnut, and brown. Subspecies:

The bushy-crested hornbill has six recognized subspecies, distinguished based on their distributional range and physical characteristics.

1. A.g. galeritus (Indochinese bushy-crested hornbill): Found in Southeast Asia, specifically in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

2. A.g. homei (Malayan bushy-crested hornbill): Found in the Malay Peninsula, Thailand, and Sumatra.

3. A.g. undulatus (Bornean bushy-crested hornbill): Found on the island of Borneo.

4. A.g. nuchalis (White-necked bushy-crested hornbill): Found on the island of Sumatra.

5. A.g. kangeangensis (Kangean Island bushy-crested hornbill): Found on Kangean Island, Indonesia.

6. A.g. samarensis (Samar bushy-crested hornbill): Found on the island of Samar, Philippines.

The differences in physical characteristics between the subspecies are often subtle and easily overlooked by casual observers. However, the subspecies distinctions are necessary for genetic and ecological studies on the species since the birds may have evolved differences in behavior and mating patterns that contribute to their survival in the different environments they inhabit.

Related Species:

The bushy-crested hornbill belongs to the monophyletic genus Anorrhinus, which comprises six hornbill species. Of these, the plain-pouched hornbill is the most closely related.

The two species share similarities in their bill morphology and casque shape. Their ranges do not overlap, but they face similar threats to their numbers, mainly hunting for their casques and habitat destruction due to forest clearance.

Historical Changes to Distribution:

Like many other bird species in Southeast Asia, the bushy-crested hornbill’s historic range has been impacted by a variety of factors, including climate change, habitat fragmentation, and hunting. The bird is susceptible to habitat loss since it depends on tall trees and dense vegetation for survival.

As the rainforests have been cleared for agriculture and plantation, the bird’s habitat has disappeared, and populations have declined. In the 20th century, the situation worsened with the Vietnam War leading to widespread deforestation and habitat destruction as bombing and clearing activities targeted forest areas in Southeast Asia.

While hunting for bushy-crested hornbills is illegal, it still takes place, primarily for the bird’s casque, which is in high demand for use in traditional medicine. In response to the declining population of the bushy-crested hornbill, conservation initiatives have been put in place.

Protected areas have been established, and efforts to curb illegal hunting and trade in hornbills and their parts have been stepped up. Such initiatives have made a measurable impact on the species’ numbers, with some populations showing signs of recovery.


The bushy-crested hornbill inhabits rainforest environments, including primary and secondary forests, from sea level to 1000 m elevation. The bird prefers tall, mature trees with dense foliage, where it can build its nest and feed on fruit.

The species is commonly found in lowland forests and occasionally in mountainous areas. It is a highly specialized frugivore, surviving on fruit and occasionally consuming insects and small invertebrates.

Habitat fragmentation through logging, agriculture, and the growth of human settlements has negatively affected the bird’s habitat. Forest clearing and degradation result in the loss of the tall trees that make up the bird’s habitat and reduce the variety of fruit available, which this bird feeds on.

Consequently, it becomes increasingly challenging for the bird to survive in the fragmented forests. Movements and Migration:

The bushy-crested hornbill is a non-migratory bird species, which means they do not travel long distances over seasons but remain within their Resident areas.

The bird is highly territorial, and the pair uses vocalizations to express their space, both to individuals of the same species and to other intruders. The hornbill’s movements are primarily flight-based, with the bird’s powerful wings enabling it to fly short distances between trees while foraging for food.

While they are active during the day, with their flights primarily being in search of food, during the nights, the birds roost on high trees. The bird is known for its distinct calls, which are characteristic sounds produced by the waving of its wings during flight.

These calls serve as territorial markers for the species. During the breeding season, the male bushy-crested hornbill engages in courtship displays, including bowing, opening and shutting his wings, and head nodding to attract a female.

As with other bird species, the movement of bushy-crested hornbills is influenced by external factors such as forest fires, habitat destruction and availability, among other factors. When forest fires occur in their primary habitat, the bird is forced to move and seek refuge in other ecosystems.

The habitat destruction can also lead to the establishment of new feeding grounds and occasionally result in the movement of some bird populations across different forest areas.

Conservation status:

The bushy-crested hornbill is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, indicating that it is at risk of becoming an endangered species.

The population of the species is believed to be in decline due to habitat loss and hunting. The hornbill’s casque is of high value in the traditional medicine market, which drives illegal and unsustainable hunting practices.

Several conservation initiatives have been established to support the conservation of the bushy-crested hornbill. For example, forest conservation initiatives focus on maintaining and restoring native habitats in, particularly in protected areas.

Some programs are aimed at educating the local communities about the importance of conservation. Field researches are conducted to monitor populations, identify the causes of the decline, and also establish recommendations suitable to save the lost hornbill populations.

These initiatives help in limiting the impact of negative human influence on the bird’s habitat and support efforts to curb hunting activities that imperil these species.


The bushy-crested hornbill is an iconic bird species found in Southeast Asia. While identified as Near Threatened, the bird’s populations are vulnerable to a range of environmental threats, including habitat loss through deforestation, forest fragmentation, and illegal hunting.

The species is a crucial indicator of the health of its habitat and underscores the importance of conservation initiatives to support the survival not only of this bird, but other species within the rainforest environments. It is vital to continue scientific research on the bushy-crested hornbill to develop a comprehensive understanding of the species’ intricate behavior and its connection with the ecosystem.

Only through collective efforts can we fight against the global threats affecting the survival of this and other similar species and maintain the ecological balance. Diet and Foraging:


The bushy-crested hornbill is a frugivore, and its diet primarily consists of fruits.

The bird’s broad bill is ideal for breaking down fruit into bite-sized pieces, which it can swallow with ease. While feeding, the bird also uses its bill to pick up and consume the occasional insect and other small invertebrates.


The bird feeds on a wide variety of fruits, and the fruit varies based on the availability, season, and location of the bird. They also feed on fig trees which they believe fall under their favorite fruit category and may consume fruits of other forest trees, including fruit of Murraya sp., Ficus sp., Alpinia sp., and Syzygium sp., among others.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

Birds of the Bucerotidae family have specialized adaptations in their metabolic rate to coexist in tropical forest regions with long periods of reduced food availability each year. The bushy-crested hornbill’s diet and metabolism have evolved to suit this tropical environment.

The fruit diet provides the bird with the necessary nourishment and energy to survive, with the bird using its energy stores efficiently during long periods of low food availability. Additionally, the bushy-crested hornbill has well-developed thermoregulation mechanisms that help to maintain their body temperature within optimal limits.

The hot climates of their environment, coupled with the extensive flights, make these birds prone to excessive body heat production. To regulate its body temperature, the hornbill adapts through a high respiratory rate, releasing heat through their respiratory organs and by exposing their gular skin region under the throat, which have fewer sweat glands.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior:


The bushy-crested hornbill is known for its distinctive calls, which are a characteristic feature of the species. The bird uses a range of vocalizations, including distinctive calls like ‘ku-ooh-ooh’; ‘kua-kua-kua’; ‘gaw wooh’, among others, to communicate with other individuals of the same species and indicate its territorial boundaries.

The bird’s vocalization is a critical aspect of its social behavior and plays a vital role in its survival. During the breeding season, males use vocalization to attract females for recognition and induce a mating response.

The females are programmed to recognize the males by their calls, and successful mating occurs when the bird establishes itself as the most dominant bird in the territory. The strength of the call indicates the fitness of the bird, with louder calls in males indicating their strength and ability to outcompete other males.

Both genders use their call to communicate, and young birds develop their vocalizations as they mature.


The bushy-crested hornbill is a highly adaptive bird with a specialized diet and well-developed thermoregulation. Its fruit diet and efficient energy metabolism enable the bird to survive in the harsh tropical forest environment and remain active through the extended periods of food scarcity.

The bird uses vocalizations to express its territorial boundaries and indicate its availability for mating, with successful communication and mating being vital factors in the bird’s survival. Overall, the bushy-crested hornbill’s unique diet, metabolism, and social behavior illustrate its critical role in the ecosystem and emphasize the importance of conservation efforts to maintain this and other similar bird species in the natural habitats they inhabit.



The bushy-crested hornbill’s primary mode of locomotion is by flight. The bird takes off from tree branches, flapping its wings in a slow, labored motion before soaring and gliding through the forest canopy.

These birds are agile fliers, capable of maneuvering through dense foliage to catch insects or to escape predators. Self-maintenance:

The bird has specialized grooming techniques that help to keep it clean and healthy.

The bird uses its beak to preen its feathers, removing dirt and maintaining their cleanliness. The male bushy-crested hornbill is responsible for sealing the nesting hole with mud and droppings, which helps keep the nest dry and free from predators and intruders.

Agonistic behavior:

The bushy-crested hornbill is a territorial bird and will engage in aggressive behavior toward other birds that invade their territory. These birds will use vocalizations to express territorial boundaries and engage in aggressive confrontations, such as charging and chasing.

Sexual behavior:

During the breeding season, males will perform elaborate courtship displays to attract females. The displays involve loud calls, flapping wings, and tilting their heads.

Females are known to respond to males with the most audacious behaviors, indicating that the birds recognize healthy individuals by their behaviors. Breeding:

The bushy-crested hornbill is a monogamous bird species, with a single male mating with a single female each breeding season.

The bird’s breeding season typically runs from February to June, during which time the male will establish a nesting territory marked by vocalizations, and elaborate courtship displays. The species is cavity nesters, and the female will select a suitable tree hole to lay her eggs.

The male will then engage in sealing the hole with mud, and the pair will take turns caring for the eggs and chicks. The chicks are fed fruits and insects by both parents and remain in the nest for up to three months before leaving.

Demography and Populations:

The bushy-crested hornbill is not widely distributed, and its population is at risk of decline due to various factors, including habitat loss and hunting. The bird is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

However, recent population trends suggest that populations might be increasing. The species is known to have specific habitat requirements to survive, and conservation initiatives have been established to support the bird’s survival.

Programs include habitat restoration, monitoring of hunting and trade in the species, and the establishment of protected areas to limit the bird’s habitat loss. The bushy-crested hornbill plays a critical role in the ecosystem as seed dispersers, and their presence signifies a healthy and sustainable forest environment.

Efforts to enhance its survival and increase populations are a crucial aspect of ensuring the sustainability of the region’s biodiversity.


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