“I am used to Spotted Doves crashing into my window panes as they try to avoid Sparrow Hawks. Also, whenever breakfast is late, an obnoxious White Breasted Waterhen does not hesitate to demand service by banging on my kitchen door!
“But I was totally unprepared for an extremely loud knocking early one morning last week.
“I staggered out of bed bleary-eyed to see this fellow tapping on the window (below).
“I grabbed a pocket camera that happened to be handy, and snapped this picture of the culprit before going out to confront the rest of his cohort.
“Oriental Pied Hornbills (Anthracoceres albirostris) do visit my neighbourhood every now and then, but I am more used to seeing them on rooftops, lamp posts, or high up in trees. Certainly not at ground level on my front porch.
“This adult male was not alone. Following his bad example was a juvenile delinquent, an immature male, just behind him, perched on my garden table (below).
“There were more hornbills on my trellis, both adult and juvenile birds, all males. Outside of the breeding season, hornbills are known to gather in flocks, which can be quite large. This time, they had limited the number to five, because a larger group could have been construed as an illegal assembly under Singapore law (below).
“One was picking flowers off a Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus) also known in Singapore as a Honolulu Creeper (below).
“Another was attacking a Water Jasmine (Wrightia religiosa) (below).
“I couldn’t say if they were actually eating the blossoms, but the flowers and seeds of the Coral Vine are fried and served as vegetables in some countries. And many birds sip nectar from the Water Jasmine. The Hornbill might have decided to swallow whole flowers instead.
“The pocket camera, whose lens was slightly misted as I had just taken it out of the airconditioned house, did not give great pictures. But by the time I got hold of more serious photographic equipment, the hornbills flapped away.
“Their more frequent presence makes us revisit the question raised by our Webmaster three years ago: How many hornbills can Singapore support? – see HERE.
“My friend who lives in Bukit Timah, has had a pair raise a clutch of babies every year in a nest box that he set up in a tree on his premises. He, who has much experience with nature and wildlife, says that the two main limits to their increase are food and accommodation. The former is not really a problem. Hornbills are omnivorous, and eat many things.
“Housing is a much more serious issue. They are big birds, and nest in hollow trees. From my experience of breeding parrots, which also nest in holes, birds of that size will need cavities of about 60 cm or more in diameter. For a tree to provide accommodation that large, the branches would have to be at least 90 cm in diameter at about 10 meters off the ground.
“How many trees of this size can you find in Singapore? And how many have convenient cavities? Those with rotten branches would probably have been cut down long ago lest they collapse and kill another tourist.
“As hornbills have been deemed to be desirable immigrants, the government has provided them with subsidised public housing in the form of artificial nest boxes at the Istana, Sungei Buloh, Pasir Ris Park and some other places. Private employers such as my friend also provide food and lodging within their own premises.
“My friend is confident that if I set up a suitable nest box high up a tree in my garden, it will only be a matter of time before a pair of house-hunting Hornbills move in. Hmmm? Should I consider becoming a developer for bird-brained tenants?”
Lee Chiu San
28th September 2017