Von der Decken's Hornbill

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Is the Von der Decken's Hornbill right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Decken's Hornbill

Scientific name: Tockus deckeni

The basics:
The Von der Decken's Hornbill is a common wild species in its east African homeland, and may be the most available and easily bred hornbill in the United States today. Although no hornbill species is recommended to beginning bird breeders, Von der Decken's may be a good first hornbill for the experienced bird breeder with plenty of space who is interested in trying this unusual group of birds.

The Von der Decken's Hornbill is a widespread, visible species found in eastern Africa, mostly to the east of the Rift Valley. In Northwest Kenya and nearby areas, look again at the upper wing coverts, because you might be viewing the closely related Jackson's Hornbill. Like the other Tockus hornbills, this species has a strong pair-bond. The female will seal herself into the nest cavity 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.

Patterned in black and white, Von der Decken's is a snazzy smaller hornbill that can be easily sexed. Adult females have black bills, while the males have a two-toned red-orange and ivory bill. Jackson's Hornbill (T. jacksoni), has been split off into a separate species, but it was formerly considered a subspecies of Von der Decken's, and it too often finds its way into aviculture. It's easy to tell the two species apart, since Jackson's Hornbill has bright white spots on the black upper wing coverts of the adult birds. In Von der Decken's Hornbill, the wings are clean and unspotted.

180 - 200 grams (6.3 - 7 oz.)

Average size:
35 centimeters (14 in.)

20 - 25 years

Behavior / temperament:
If a Von der Decken's Hornbill is hand-fed or handled by humans from a very early age, the bird can make a very endearing pet that will try to follow you around for treats and attention. Do not neglect these pair bond birds. In the wild, they are extremely devoted to each other, and in captivity, the a carefully tamed bird will transfer its affections to you.

While widely admired as adaptable, easy-going hornbills, Von der Decken's is still a hornbill. Use common sense. Do not place smaller species in their aviary, or they could be killed or even eaten by these territorial birds.

The Von der Decken's Hornbill demands a spacious aviary, preferably well equipped and well planted, with plenty of perches and ground space. They have been described as being a bit awkward and clumsy in an aviary that is too small. Give them room! Don't house them with any other species unless you are highly experienced with creating mixed-species exhibits, as they are both territorial and a tad carnivorous. 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. As a tropical species found in scrubbier, lower elevations, Von der Decken's Hornbills need to be protected from the cold and damp, but they will appreciate the ability to get some sunlight.

The Von der Decken's Hornbill is an omnivorous species that takes fruit, insects, and perhaps even some seed in the wild. While there doesn't seem to be a huge problem with iron storage disease in the Tockus hornbills, many specialty bird breeders are extremely cautious and supply low iron softbill pellets to all of their heavy fruit eaters, including Von der Decken's. 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.

Written by Elaine Radford

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