Fascinating Facts about Rhinoceros Hornbills

November 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

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.

Solving Human-Avian Conflicts & Encouraging Coexistence (Part 2)

September 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Continued from Part 1

Common Human-Avian Conflict Mitigation Methods

Regardless of the individual circumstances that exist for each human-avian conflict event, many mitigation methods are available to address these situations. A successful mitigation program will most likely involve a combination of several different techniques that take into consideration the environmental conditions of the area, the funding that is available, the severity and nature of the conflict, and the level of community support that exists for the program. The goal of the program should be to use the most cost effective, least intrusive mitigation methods, leading to peaceful human/avian coexistence.

When developing a wildlife conflict resolution program, all stakeholders should have the opportunity to voice their concerns and to participate in the design of a mitigation program. A comprehensive education program should also be initiated to diffuse highly volatile situations, eliminate misconceptions, increase community support, and improve attitudes and tolerance levels (Baruch-Mordo et al, 2011). Educational programs may include public forums, school programs, solicitation of support from industry and governmental entities, distribution of educational materials and other methods (Baruch-Mordo et al, 2011).

Next, the habitat should be modified as much as possible to make it less attractive to the species causing the conflict. The habitat should be examined to see if there are things present that are attracting the birds such as food, water, nesting materials, and ground cover for rodents. Removal of these items, if possible, and cleaning around the area by mowing tall grasses and cutting down dead trees that harbor insects and provide nesting sites should decrease the attractiveness of the habitat (Mengak, 2013). If the problem persists, attractants can be separated from the birds with barriers. Bringing cows that are preparing to give birth into shelters, storing grain and hay inside barns and silos, and placing chickens in a secure coop can prevent access to attractants (Lowney, 1999). Another option is to move attractants to a safe location. The Kea Conservation Trust is utilizing diversionary areas filled with desirable enrichment items to lure birds away from dangerous car parks.

Thoughtful urban planning can also reduce wildlife conflict situations. Power companies can install rounded protection devices on utility poles to prevent monk parakeets from building nests on them, and can design electricity pylons that prevent the electrocution of raptors (Newman et al, 2008). Wind energy farms can implement bird-friendly technology and operation methods and be placed away from important bird migration routes (American Bird Conservancy, 2013). Wildlife crossings can be installed to allow animals to migrate across roadways (Metro, 2014).

Another approach to reducing human-avian wildlife conflict situations is to reduce the incentive for people to harm the birds. These methods are most effective when the avian species population involved is endangered or threatened. First, laws should be instituted to protect the species. Next, these laws must be strictly enforced (Cross et al, 2013). Then, if possible, incentive programs should be implemented to improve attitudes. These incentives should provide benefits to the people who are suffering losses but are not harming the birds. Types of incentives include reimbursing farmers for crop and livestock losses, replacing property that was damaged by the birds or providing people with the materials necessary to deter the birds at no cost (Decker et al, 2002).

If the above methods are ineffective, more intrusive deterrents may be necessary to harass the birds from congregating in the area. These can include audio deterrents, visual deterrents, tactile deterrents and chemical repellents (Mengak, 2013). Audio deterrents harass the birds by emitting scary or unappealing sounds. These can include loud booms, pyrotechnics or recordings of predator calls. Visual deterrents may include flashing lights, scarecrows, balloons, waving ribbons, a mounted owl figure or silhouette cutouts of predators attached to windows. Tactile deterrents may include motion-activated water sprinklers or spikes mounted on perching sites. Lastly, there are several chemical repellents available from commercial retailers that are safe and effective, but these preparations can be expensive and may require multiple applications (Stevens & Clark, 1998). Most harassment methods are only useful for a short time period because the birds become habituated to them. These methods are most effective for conflict situations that only last for a short duration, such as during migration season (Mengak, 2013).

If all other mitigation methods have failed, it may be necessary to relocate or cull offending animals. Relocations are usually reserved for protected species and must be well-planned, otherwise they may result in moving the same problem to another location or in the death of the animal. Most avian species have the ability to travel great distances and may have homing capabilities, so the relocation must be sufficiently far away and provide attractive habitat so the bird doesn’t return to the original area (Decker et al, 2002). Culling of offending individuals is a last resort and can result in unanticipated fallout. In protected species, the loss of the individual’s genetic variability may affect the overall health of the population. Behavior associated with human conflict may also be associated with subgroups of the population so culling may result in population skewing. Examples include culling females of a species who are more likely to aggressively defend nesting sites, removing the dominant bird in a family group, or removing individuals who possess greater exploratory behavior, a trait that has supported the species’ survival in the past (Orr-Walker et al, 2012).


Human-wildlife conflict situations can have a significant impact on the welfare of the people affected and on the wildlife species involved. These conflicts can significantly impair conservation initiatives as well. The types of conflict vary greatly. Each case must be evaluated individually and mitigation plans must be designed based on each situation’s specific needs. The goal should be to create a cost-efficient plan that uses the least intrusive methods necessary to effectively address the situation.

Local participation in policy-making and a comprehensive educational program are necessary first steps if mitigation programs are to succeed long-term. Attention to the complex social issues involved in the conflict is also important. Familiarity with the ecology of the avian species of concern and the mitigation strategies available will also assist in the creation of a successful mitigation program. Peaceful coexistence between the humans and the wildlife should be the primary goal.

References for this article can be found on the author’s bio page.

Article submitted by Jackie R. Bray, Graduate Student MA Biology – Project Dragonfly at Miami University Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden – Cincinnati, Ohio

Solving Human-Avian Conflicts & Encouraging Coexistence (Part 1)

September 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

Human-wildlife conflict is a significant conservation issue. As human populations continue to increase, habitats previously occupied by wildlife are repurposed for human use. This can cause displacement of wildlife into human inhabited areas or provide suitable conditions for pest species, such as rats, raccoons and pigeons, to multiply unchecked. Close contact between people and wildlife leads to opportunities for conflict. The very survival of many wildlife species is in jeopardy because of conflict with humans. Types of conflict vary widely, depending on the species involved and the circumstances of each individual situation. There are just as many methods available to diminish these conflicts. Regrettably, hostility toward wildlife often endures even after conflict issues are successfully addressed. Human perceptions of the risk involved with wildlife presence and the damage that wildlife can inflict is influenced by many social issues. These social issues may include childhood experiences with wildlife, cultural beliefs and human-human conflicts. To successfully mitigate human-wildlife conflict issues long term, thoughtful consideration of the social issues affecting the local community and the mitigation strategies available for the particular situation must be understood (Dickman, 2010).

Comprehensive understanding of the species and the nuances of the particular conflict situation are necessary for successful resolution. After discussing the human factors involved in wildlife conflict, this study will focus on identifying trends involved in conflict situations between humans and avian species, the mitigation strategies available to encourage humans and avian wildlife to coexist, and the social issues that fuel conflict situations with avian species.


Different stakeholders can have conflicting concerns. It may be difficult to objectively assess the importance of these concerns and decide the best way to prioritize them. Quantifying these priorities using multiple criteria analyses may help decision makers assess priorities more fairly (Redpath et al, 2003). In the United Kingdom, Redpath and colleagues (2003) used multiple criteria analysis and resolution techniques to address conflicts between conservationists working to protect the Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus) and game managers concerned with providing sustainable populations of Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) for hunting. Raptors, such as the Hen Harrier, reduce the number of Red Grouse available for harvest by game hunters. The stakeholders agreed to attend a weekend symposium where they could discuss their individual priorities. These priorities were organized and participants were asked to quantitatively rank the importance of each. This ranking allowed facilitators to demonstrate where the groups agreed, providing a foundation for actions that could be taken to benefit both parties. The greater benefit of the project was to initiate constructive dialog between the stakeholders and alleviate some of the mistrust that existed between them (Redpath et al, 2003). The symposium was a first step to long term solutions that required interdisciplinary approaches and cooperation between all parties involved, and serves as a model for other conservation projects. Stakeholders can range from a few individuals to organizations, and from local to world communities. Mitigating human-wildlife conflict issues demands acknowledgement of all stakeholders involved and careful consideration of the different perspectives these stakeholders have on the situation. In the past it has not been uncommon for conservation organizations or government entities to move into an area and make wide-sweeping decisions that affect the local community, assuming the community will cooperate. Instead, an increase in hostility toward the wildlife often occurs (see Table 1) (Dickman, 2010).

Table 1: Stakeholders that could have interest in conservation initiatives and the unique perspectives they bring to the conversation.

Actual Human Impacts

Conflicts with wildlife can have significant impacts on the people involved, with actual risks coming in many forms. The health and safety of residents is the highest priority in any conflict situation. Health and safety issues include attacks on people by wildlife, risks of injury from collisions with wildlife, contamination of human water or food supplies from feces and direct disease transmission from wildlife to humans (Begg & Kushnir, 2011).

Next, there are biological risks. Biological risks include predation or disease transmission from wildlife to livestock or pets. Health, safety and biological risks usually provide the strongest arguments for the removal of wildlife from an area and are less likely to face harsh challenges from opposing points of view.

Psychological risks may be associated with human health issues. The fear and distress suffered by some people residing near dangerous wildlife can destroy their quality of life and exacerbate conflict situations. Psychological risks should be addressed sensitively as a legitimate human impact if long-term conflict mitigation programs are to succeed.

Then there are economic risks. Economic risks can include a broad range of impacts such as loss of income or livelihood, loss of property, and loss of economic opportunities by the impositions of wildlife. Economic risks often fuel bitter conflicts between stakeholders with conflicting priorities and can lead to serious social and cultural conflict situations (Omondi, 1994).

Human-wildlife conflicts that involve social and cultural risks are incredibly difficult to manage because the real issues fueling the conflict are often less about the wildlife and more about the human-human conflicts that surround the wildlife issue (Dickman, 2010). Social risks often involve the marginalization of a group of people by authorities, especially when the group does not feel they have a voice in the situation. The group may be suffering economic losses because of conservation initiatives or may have been forced to relocate. These situations can lead to civil disobedience and escalated conflict. Social issues can also involve a group’s feelings of entitlement over wildlife or a species. National heritage or religious attitudes may be associated with wildlife conflict (Hazzah, 2006). As an example, In the United States the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act prohibits, among other things, the possession, use or sale of eagle feathers (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009). In response to opposition from Native Americans, a memorandum was added to the law in 1994 permitting the use of eagle feathers for Native American religious and cultural purposes (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).

Cultural risks are essentially the same as social risks, but involve deeply ingrained beliefs in the collective identity of certain social groups. An example of a human-wildlife conflict from our own history that was fueled by cultural implications was the conflict between European settlers and Native Americans surrounding the North American Bison. The Europeans massacred bison for sport and profit, harming the Native Americans that depended upon the bison for survival (Taylor, 2011). Hypothetically, if the Europeans had later wanted to implement a conservation program where Native Americans could no longer hunt bison, the conflict that arose would be less about the bison and more about the conflict between the two social groups.

Issues That Affect Attitudes and Perceptions

A considerable challenge in addressing human impacts is accurate assessment of the degree of actual risk involved versus the perceived risk by those affected (Boholm, 1998). The relationship and experience people have with nature will influence how they interact with nature and will affect their degree of tolerance when conflict issues arise. Many factors influence public opinion regarding wildlife conflict issues and these opinions are often emotionally charged. Giving stakeholders the opportunity to express their opinions and respectfully validating that their feelings have merit can help them find common ground and promote cooperation.

There are several common factors that can affect public attitudes and their perceptions of loss and risk. Socio-economic factors such as age, sex, level of education, wealth and the system of land ownership present in the affected area are all important influences on the individual’s perceptions (Omondi, 1994). The person’s childhood experiences with nature will also influence their perceptions in adulthood. Children that had the opportunity to spend time outside connecting with nature are more likely to grow into adults that have positive attitudes and empathy for wildlife (Sobel, 1996).

Past personal experiences will obviously affect attitudes. If an individual has suffered a dangerous close encounter, property damage or an economic loss related to wildlife, they will likely have strong opinions related to conservation efforts. They are also in a position to greatly influence the opinions of others in their community. The severity of any negative experiences will affect attitudes as well. Was an actual loss sustained or was the individual just inconvenienced? What was the nature of past conflict situations? The degree of the problem might not be as severe if it only occurs for a short duration, such as seasonally, versus a problem that persists constantly. The person’s past experience with conservation initiatives will impact their trust in future programs. Were previous government compensation programs administered fairly? Were previously attempted damage control measures effective? Did the local community benefit from ecotourism programs? Failure of previous programs will affect support for future programs (Dickman, 2010).

Attitudes can also be influenced by indirect sources such as mass media, the sharing of experiences from other members of the community, and the historical conflicts from the individual’s culture. When Steve Irwin was accidently killed by a stingray in 2006, Australian conservation officials had to plead with the public to stop killing stingrays out of vengeance (Johnson, 2006). Sensationalized news stories, exaggerated testimonials and cultural folklore can have significant impact on individual attitudes toward wildlife (Prokop et al, 2009).

Types of Human-Avian Conflict

The types of human-wildlife conflict that commonly involve avian species fall within several broad categories. Certain species are associated with particular types of conflict because the type of conflict is often associated with the natural ecology of the species. Each event should be evaluated on the specific circumstances of the situation (see Table 2).

Table 2: The varying types of human-avian conflict, and the species and details associated with that form of conflict.

References for this article can be found on the author’s bio page.

Article submitted by Jackie R. Bray, Graduate Student MA Biology – Project Dragonfly at Miami University Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden – Cincinnati, Ohio

Continued in Part 2

Home Away from Home on the Islands

May 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Features

If you were to think about birding in Hawaii, what would be the first thought that ran through your mind? For me it was, “I wonder what kind of crazy tropical birds I am going to find”. I don’t know why, but when thinking about birds in Hawaii that I immediately think of birds that you would expect to find in the rainforest’s of the Amazon, the flashy colors and the long ornate tail feathers. I think you will be surprised, as I was, with the familiar feathered friends that Hawaii has in store for birders.

A familiar call

It is always comforting to be somewhere new and hear a familiar voice calling out to you. For me that was when I woke up to a beautiful morning on Kauai, welcomed by the familiar call of the Western Meadowlark! I was surprised to hear the beautiful song of one of my favorite birds. Upon doing a little research on the matter I was shocked to find out that they were introduced to Kauai, undoubtedly for the beautiful song they sing. Finding the Meadowlark inspired me to go on a hunt for other birds that I didn’t expect to see on the islands.

Who’s laughing at me?

Imagine my surprise when I was doing some hiking and thinking I was alone when suddenly I was surprised to hear what sounded like someone was laughing at me. Having experienced living and hiking in Idaho, I suddenly realized that I was being mocked by a Chukar! Oh how illusive they are in the rocky hills in Idaho – it can be quite hard to get a good view of this beautiful bird. I was in complete shock when I had several run-ins with them along the trail I was hiking.

Before visiting Hawaii, I had never seen a Chukar pop out of a bush and stand in the trail in front of me, so it was truly a magical moment for me to share the trail so comfortably with the bird. Hawaiian Chukars are so comfortable around people, so I was able to get so close to them, seeing the beauty of all of their different colors for what seemed like the first time.

A friendly covey

While relaxing on a shady hillside on Maui, I heard another familiar call. This time it was more of a ka-kah-ko, ka-kah-ko. Could it be one of my frequent visitors to my feeders at home? It sounded like it was close so I didn’t want to move too fast and spook it away. Slowly looking and scanning for any movement I finally spotted a group of birds scurrying along the ground. Seeing a healthy covey of California Quail put a huge smile on my face.

There is something quite amiable about the quail. I think if I had to describe the ‘personality’ of them, the only word that comes to mind is ‘bubbly’. I have watched them at my own ground feeders for years and never get tired of the little chirps and squeaks that they make.

Could it be?!

In my final few days of my time on the beautiful islands of Hawaii I decided to try an experiment of sorts. I had been seeing flashes of a very bright bird, but I couldn’t get a good view of it. I had heard rumors that this bird was on the islands, but until I saw it with my own eyes I wouldn’t believe it. So I went to a local store and picked up a window birdfeeder and a small bag of seed, to see if I could lure one in. Now, even as an avid birder, I didn’t spend all of my time in my room waiting to see what would come eat from the feeder, I was in Maui after all!

The times that I was in my room I witnessed a lot of amazing activity feeding from the birdfeeder. Then it happened, a flash of bright red, and sitting there on my feeder was a Northern Cardinal! I had heard that they had accidentally been introduced on the islands, but I guess I didn’t expect to actually see one. I decided to get in touch with the local Audubon Society and see if I could get some information on how they ended up there. From the information I was able to gather it sounds like someone had a pair as a pet and one escaped. To try to ensure the bird’s survival, they also let the second one go right after. This happened back in 1929. Reportedly between the years of 1929-1931 there were several hundred more pairs that were brought over and introduced to the islands. Seeing the bird in person was an amazing experience and one I will never forget.

Eye Opener

You just never know what you are going to find when you take a trip. I had a blast not only seeing a bunch of the native birds but also so many familiar species of birds. It just goes to show that when you don’t spend all of your time on the beach and just open up your eyes you will see things that you never expected to see. You might see some familiar feathers among the branches when you are looking for the new ones. If you ever have the chance to get over to Hawaii don’t miss out on the opportunity to get out and enjoy some of the beautiful birds and see what other species you can find that you didn’t expect to see!

Article contributed by: Ernie Allison

(Picture courtesty of USFWS via Wikimedia Commons)

Great Louisiana BirdFest 2014

March 20, 2014 by  
Filed under Events

The 18th annual Great Louisiana BirdFest takes place during the spring migration, offering the opportunity for birders to gather and share in the excitement of spotting many migrant bird species passing through south Louisiana as they travel from South America and Mexico. For more information visit northlakenature.org

Dates: 11-13 April 2014
Venue: North Lake Nature Center
City: Mandeville
State: Louisiana
Country: United States

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