The rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) is a most unusual looking bird found primarily in the rain forests of Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Singapore, the Malay Peninsula and southern Thailand. Its large yellow-orange hornlike casque, curving upward from between its eyes as an extension of its beak, makes it immediately clear why this species of hornbill is associated with a rhinoceros. As one of the largest hornbills, adults weigh up to 3kg and are typically between 91 and 122 cm long. They have a lifespan of thirty-five years or more in captivity and there is little difference in appearance between the male and female of the species, other than the male having orange or red irises, and the female’s irises being whitish in color.
While the casque may be shaded in orange and yellow, the beak of the rhinoceros hornbill is mostly white. When in flight, the rhinoceros hornbill’s black wings curve around gracefully towards its head, while it’s white tail feathers with a perfect semi-circle of black spreads out like a fan. As omnivores, these fascinating birds eat fruit, insects, rodents, small reptiles and even smaller birds.
During the breeding period the female rhinoceros hornbill is completely dependent on her mate as she incubates the eggs and starts raising their chicks. Upon finding a suitable cavity in a tree trunk, the female lays one or two eggs while the male collects mud which the pair will mix with food and feces to close up the entrance to the nest. They leave a small hole in the newly made wall for the male to pass food through for the female and later for the chicks. The female also defecates through the hole to avoid soiling the nesting cavity. Around thirty days after the eggs hatch the female breaks through the wall and seals it behind her. Both parents continue feeding the chicks through a small hole until they are able to break through the wall on their own, at which point they are ready to fly.
Rhinoceros hornbills are not considered to be endangered at present, however deforestation is a problem which could impact populations in the wild in the future. Moreover, these birds are hunted as food, and ornaments are made out of their casques. Members of the public can play a part in conserving rhinoceros hornbills and other animals by refusing to buy ornaments or other products made from their body parts.
With their forked tails and scythe-shaped wings, swifts herald the arrival of spring in Europe and are seen as the bringers of rain in parts of Africa where they spend their winters. These amazing birds spend almost their entire lives in flight, so much so that their legs are small and too weak to support them for long when perching, explaining why their family name, Apodidae, is taken from the Greek word meaning ‘without feet’. Spine-tailed swifts, also known as white-throated needletails, have been measured as flying up to speeds of 105 mph (169km/h), while common swifts are known to routinely reach speeds of 70 mph (112 km/h).
Although they resemble swallows, swifts are placed in the same order as hummingbirds, Apodiformes, while swallows are of the order Passeriformes. Their similarities are attributed to convergent evolution, a phenomena where differing species develop similar traits due to lifestyle adaptations, in this case their habit of catching insects in flight.
Distances are immaterial to swifts, as they can easily fly 500 miles in a day. Most swifts remain airborne from when they fledge to the first time they breed – a period of roughly four years. It’s been estimated that in a swift’s lifetime it will cover a distance of around 1.28 million miles. They even roost on the wing, circling gently for hours as the two sides of their brains take turns in sleeping. Swifts only nest to raise their young, and are fond of doing so inside roofs of houses. Parents can gather and carry as many as 1,000 insects to feed their young, making them very effective insect controllers. When the fledglings leave the nest, they all take to the skies and so the cycle continues.
When swifts are feeding in the late afternoon, they swoop through the air in a series of aerobatics that are fascinating to watch. As is the case with hummingbirds, swifts are able to rotate their wings in a manner that keeps them fully extended and rigid, delivering power on both the upstroke and downstroke, thereby increasing their speed and maneuverability. No other bird species are able to do this. So if you happen to have the good fortune to see swifts in action, take some time to appreciate their unique characteristics.