Trumpeter Hornbill

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Is the Trumpeter Hornbill right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: N/A

Scientific name: Bycanistes bucinator

The basics:
The Trumpeter Hornbill is not entirely easy to find in captivity, although it has been bred rather often over the years by big collections like zoos. In addition to the usual challenges presented by hornbills, including a need for lots of space, these birds may be prone to iron storage disease, so they demand special attention to the diet and a good relationship with a knowledgeable avian vet. There are examples of individuals being kept and trained as pets who were delighted to perform tricks. However, considering the rarity of this species in aviculture, it is currently recommended to dedicated experts only.

The Trumpeter Hornbill has a wide range in various moist lowland forests in central, eastern, and southern Africa. Highly social, it has been seen gathered at roosts holding dozens of birds.Its genus has changed, and much information will be found about this bird under the older name, Ceratogymna bucinator.

The striking Trumpeter Hornbill stands out because of its deep black upperparts and breast, combined with a snow-white belly and white rump. There is a dark casque atop the thick dark bill. Males are substantially bigger than their mates.

Male: 610 - 940 grams (21.5 - 33 oz.)
Female: 450 - 670 grams (16 - 24 oz.)

Average size:
58 - 65 centimeters (23 - 25.5 in.)

20 - 25 years

Behavior / temperament:
The Trumpeter Hornbill has a strong pair-bond. The female will seal herself into the nestlog while incubating the eggs and starting the young birds, knowing that she can rely on her devoted mate to bring a steady supply of food.

Although it would be rare to find a hand-raised or domestic-bred Trumpeter Hornbill young enough to train, past owners report that these birds are highly intelligent. They will learn to catch grapes or other tricks, and they can become very devoted to their keeper. A highly social bird, they should never be neglected or isolated.

As a rather popular zoo animal, this social species has been housed in mixed-species exhibits, but you must be very careful. Lots of plants and cover, lots of space, and lots of feeding platforms and nest cavities are the way to go if you try this. And there's simply no substitution for careful observation. For most people, the most practical choice will be to house the pairs in their own aviary, especially during the breeding season.

The arboreal Trumpeter Hornbill demands a huge, well-planted aviary that includes plenty of room to perch up high. Don't house them with any other species unless you are highly experienced with creating mixed-species exhibits, because they can help themselves to the young birds of other species. A bird that couldn't get away might become a meal.

If you have paired your birds, get advice from more experienced breeders about the proper size and placement of the nestlog. Like all hornbills, Trumpeters need to be protected from the cold and damp, but they will appreciate the ability to get some sunlight.

The Trumpeter Hornbill is a highly frugivorous species that does take some insects, as well as whatever protein such as small lizards, rodents, or nestlings, that it might happen to encounter. There is some concern with iron storage disease in this species, and keepers are advised to follow standard iron storage disease precautions, including the use of specially formulated low iron softbill pellets and the avoidance of fruits high in ascorbic acid, such as tomatoes, citrus fruit, and pineapples. These fruits are known to improve the body's ability to absorb iron, a bad thing for this species.

Most recommended diets include chopped fruit, a good vitamin rich vegetable like chopped cooked yam, low iron softbill pellets, a high quality dog or cat kibble, and a variety of live insects including mealworms and crickets. A homemade live insect trap might be advisable to supplement the variety of live insects that you can purchase from commercial dealers.

The chopped fruit salad should contain a generous blend of fruits that are high in water – such as apple, kiwi, cherry, grapes, berries – and fruits that are rich in nutrients, such as soaked raisins. Chopped banana, papaya, and passionfruit are also good additions to the diet. Never emphasize only the high water fruits, because they are not nutrient-dense enough on their own.

Written by Elaine Radford

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