Treasure of the month
photo Jo Van de Vijver, RMCA Tervuren ©
Scientific name: Tockus alboterminatus
Geographic distribution: Savannas of the eastern half of Africa
The crowned hornbill is a medium-sized hornbill of around 50 to 54 cm in length, with a white belly and black wings and back. The tips of its long tailfeathers are white and its eyes are yellow. The crowned hornbill is easily recognized because of its large curved beak with a protuberance that makes its cry resonate. Females have smaller beaks. Crowned hornbills feed mainly on insects but also eat fruit and berries during the dry season, when insects are harder to find.
In several regions of Africa, hornbills are a symbol of fidelity, as couples mate for life. These birds also have very unique nesting behaviour. Hornbills build their nest in the hollow of a tree trunk. The female is then sealed into the trunk when the male closes the opening with a mixture of mud, saliva, and excrement. Only a small hole is left for the female to receive food brought by the male, discard excrement, and defend the nest. After a few days, the female lays 3 to 5 eggs that she then incubates for 25 to 27 days. She remains with the nestlings for another 25 to 30 days until the space is too cramped. At this point, the female hornbill pecks at the hole to enlarge it, leaves the nest, and seals the opening again. She and the male continue to feed the nestlings. At the end of 46 to 55 days, the fledgelings can finally take flight.
The RMCA has more than 1,800 hornbill specimens representing 22 different species. Our collections also contain a number of type specimens upon which taxonomic descriptions were based. These type specimens are of crucial scientific importance as reference material. The holotype of Buceros kethullei is one example.
Moreover, as with most of our specimens, genetic material can be extracted for analysis so that genetic relationships can be established for different species and subspecies.
Birds of Katanga by Michel Louette & Michel Hasson