Wednesday, June 2, 2010

No sleep

Winter is sleep-in time for me.
Mongooses are wimpy about the cold, so when the nights grow chilly (down to 7C last night) they stay tucked up snugly in their termite mound until a couple of hours after dawn. This means I too can stay tucked up snugly asleep.
Or it usually does.
At 6 am this morning I was torn from my dreams by an electric buzz saw – no, three electric buzz saws - screaming outside my window.
Not renovations or a mad clear-felling operation: trumpeter hornbills.
Trumpeter hornbills are not aptly named. They're considerably louder than your average trumpet. Their beaks are cunningly designed to amplify their ghastly, chainsaw-like shrieks, with the sound reverberating in a natty, hollow casque on their upper bill. Despite their excruciating voices, they are spectacular birds - something you'd expect to find in a rainforest in Borneo, not the African bush.

Trumpeter hornbills (Bycanistes bucinator) dine almost exclusively on fruit and, around here, while away their days in the trees along the river. Photo by Francesco Veronesi and borrowed from here.

As with all hornbills (other than ground hornbills), the female trumpeter is the ultimate stay-at-home mum.
Once she and hubby have chosen their dream tree-hollow, she starts on the plastering, closing up the front entrance with a wall of mud. Squirming inside through a small hole, she pastes this closed (leaving only a thin vertical slit) using her own droppings. Here she sits alone in the dark, brooding her eggs, and later the chicks. With house-wifely efficiency, she uses this downtime to upgrade her wardrobe, indulging in a full-monty feather moult. Meanwhile dad is responsible for feeding the family, poking bits of fruit in through the mail chute, and receiving the little packages of bird-droppings that mum posts out in return.
Although some hornbill mothers stay locked indoors until their youngsters fledge (four months), trumpeters usually make a break for it when their little darlings are half grown. And who can blame them. Can you imagine that racket, resonating inside a hollow tree?

 Photo by Martin Heigan and borrowed from here.


  1. We have got two ground hornbills by the Lodge and several by the villages here!

  2. Kristen,
    Ground hormbills are truly amazing birds!


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