Hornbill hotspots

Hornbill distribution and conservation threats

Hornbills are giants among the forest birds: bizarre, spectacular, awe-inspiring. They also play essential roles in forest ecosystems as dispersers of seeds of forest plants. Yet, many hornbills are today threatened by habitat loss, hunting, and loss of large trees that they need for feeding and nesting.

  • Great Hornbill female in flight

  • Female Narcondam Hornbill

  • Male Malabar Grey Hornbill

  • Female Malabar Pied Hornbill

A diversity of hornbills

Hornbills are large and wide-ranging birds and most species are dependent on tropical forest habitats that contain large and tall trees. As they mostly eat fruits, a diversity of  native forest tree and liana species are needed to provide their year-round requirements. India has nine hornbill species, of which four are found in the Western Ghats: Indian Grey Hornbill (endemic to India), the Malabar Grey Hornbill (endemic to the Western Ghats), Malabar Pied Hornbill (endemic to India and Sri Lanka) and the widely distributed but endangered Great Hornbill. India also has one species that has one of the smallest ranges of any hornbill: the Narcondam Hornbill, found only on the island of Narcondam.

Besides intensive studies of hornbills in the Anamalai hills, we have also carried out surveys for hornbills across the Western Ghats, and a survey in Narcondam Island. Our research on hornbills has focused on the following aspects:

  • Studies on the ecology and breeding biology of hornbills in the Anamalai hills
  • Effects of rainforest fragmentation on hornbills in the Anamalai hills
  • Survey of hornbills and endemic birds in wildlife protected areas and Reserved Forests along the Western Ghats
  • Survey of Narcondam Island and its endemic hornbill species



  • Ministry of Environment and Forests, India
  • Oriental Bird Club, UK
  • Rufford Small Grants Foundation, UK


  • Popular Article
    Hornbills: the feathered foresters.
    Mudappa, D. 2016. JLR Explore, 15 May 2016.

    Most of us are familiar with charismatic mammals such as tigers, elephants and apes. And there are charismatic species amongst birds too: bustards, cranes, eagles. But in the Asian and African tropics are birds that gain charisma from their large size, spectacular appearance, and extraordinary breeding habits: the hornbills.

    Read here: http://jlrexplore.com/explore/focus/hornbills

  • Popular Article
    Restoring the fabric
    Sanctuary Asia, June 2015, 35(6): 53.

    PNG, 339 KB

  • Journal Article
    An expedition to Narcondam: observations of marine and terrestrial fauna including the island-endemic hornbill.
    T R Shankar Raman, Divya Mudappa, Tasneem Khan, Umeed Mistry, Ajai Saxena, Kalyan Varma, Naveen Ekka, Janaki Lenin, Romulus Whitaker
    Current Science 105: 346-360.
  • Popular Article
    Islands in peril: Conservation caveats.
    The Hindu Magazine, Sunday 26 February 2012, page 4.
  • Popular Article
    The feathered foresters
    Saevus 1(4, Sep/Oct): 28-33.

    PDF, 1.33 MB

  • Dataset
    Western Ghats Hornbill Survey
    India Biodiversity Portal, Western Ghats bird transect layer http://indiabiodiversity.org/layer_info.php?layer_name=lyr_235_wg_birdtransects

    Data from Western Ghats Hornbills and endemic bird survey contributed to India Biodiversity Portal
    Available here: http://indiabiodiversity.org/layer_info.php?layer_name=lyr_235_wg_birdtransects

  • Journal Article
    A conservation status survey of hornbills (Bucerotidae) in the Western Ghats, India.
    Indian Birds 5: 90–102.
  • Art & Literary
    Who gives a fig?
    The Hindu Magazine, 26 July 2009, page 5.

    Trees are being slaughtered in large numbers in the face of urbanisation. A reflective piece on what is happening to our landscapes from a conservation perspective.

    Available here: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-sundaymagazine/who-gives-a-fig/article661724.ece

  • Dataset
    Data from: A conservation status survey of hornbills (Bucerotidae) in the Western Ghats, India.
    Dryad Digital Repository. doi: 10.5061/dryad.63s7r

    The data are available here. Data layers can also be accessed here on the India Biodiversity Portal for Western Ghats.

  • Report
    Hornbills and endemic birds: a conservation status survey across the Western Ghats, India.
    NCF Technical Report No. 17, Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore.

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