What does an Indian Grey Hornbill eat? Ask a bird expert and he’ll tell you their meal consists of fruits of various trees like that of the Ficus species and also insects. But a first time study reveals how with changing times even these birds are being forced to change their food habits, with rotis (Indian bread) and biscuits becoming their new meal!

Indian Grey Hornbill

Ornithologist Ajay Gadikar and a research team undertook the task of keeping a watch of an Indian Grey Hornbill nest through Close circuit cameras (CCTVs) 24×7 for a period of 60 days in Madhya Pradesh. This was a first time project by the Forest Department to understand the life of these birds better and the results were not only interesting but shocking.

Daily Bread

The hornbills are known to build their nest inside tree hollows, which they clean thoroughly before the mother Hornbill enters it. The hollow is then sealed with leaves and mud with only a small slit kept for the male to feed first the female and later the chicks too that hatch out of the eggs.

To understand what the male hornbill is feeding its chicks, the team watched them through the camera installed near the nest.

Gadikar said,

“For the first time, it has been observed that Indian Grey Hornbill feeds pieces of chapatis (roti) and biscuits along with other fruits and inspects to its chicks. Hornbill collected pieces of chapatis and biscuits from residential complex or garbage and fed them to chicks.”

“It might be an attempt by the bird species to adjust with the new surroundings and prepare its chicks for a situation when they may have to survive on fewer trees,” he said.

The change of diet, he thinks is mainly due to the decreasing number of fruit trees. Hornbills mainly like fruits of pipal (Ficus religiosa) in their diet with 40 percent of meals from this tree. Other favourites are Banyan (Ficus benghalensis) and other plants. 20 percent of their diet also includes insects.

But lately, trees are getting fewer and the Horbills are therefore adapting new ways of survival.

“Adaptation is the key to survival and hornbills seem to be doing the same,” Gadikar says.

Safe in a Hole

Another interesting find of the research was how the chicks too learnt quickly that they needed to protect themselves from predators by sealing the tree hollow. After the female Hornbill leaves the nest, it was observed by the researchers that the chicks close the walls again. They used the same technique of using mud and fruit pulp to secure their nest wall.

The researcher adds that the finding is interesting because the chicks seem to be born with the talent of mending the wall as they never saw their mother do the same trick. She sealed the wall even before they were born!

Moulting of feathers by female, use of bark pieces for maintaining humidity inside the nest and for medicinal purpose and other habits were also recorded.

Chief conservator of forest (CCF) P C Dubey said a movie of their life cycle based on the CCTV recording is being made with the help of MP Ecotourism Board. The movie will be used for creating awareness about nature and environment.

The Hornbills might have learnt a new trick of survival, but whether this changed diet affects them in the long run will only be known with further studies. The research also shows how increasingly most species of birds and animals are being left with no choice but to either adapt to the man-made world or just perish.

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Image via cc/Flickr by Tariq Sani and Rahul Rallan

About Atula Gupta

Atula Gupta is the Founder and Editor of indiasendangered.com. Her work has appeared in a number of international websites, dailies and magazines including The Wire, Deccan Herald, New Indian Express, Down to Earth and Heritage India on issues related to environment and its conservation. She is also the author of Environment Science Essentials, a set of books for school children. She hopes this website provides a platform for people to be aware about species in the verge of extinction and heighten their conservation efforts.

5 thoughts on “Hornbills Feeding Bread and Biscuit to their Chicks!

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for writing the story, yes indeed it was a very nice finding even BNHS, Mumbai scientist have come to know about this finding. Will update you on any further study done in this area.


    Ajay Gadikar

    1. Thank you so much for visiting the site. Your research related to the hornbills, opens such an important discussion in this field as to the way birds and other animals are forcefully adapting to a diet that is not natural for them. Do let us know about other research you are working on and if there is any additional information you would like to share through this platform.

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