Since moving out to Brunei, I guess my slight obsession with Hornbills could have been predicted. After all, we came out here so that my husband could take up a job with a school of the same name. The neighbouring Malaysian state of Sarawak has the Rhinoceros Hornbill as its state emblem. And frankly, living out in the semi-jungle landscape of Borneo, in a very un-cosmopolitan social backwater, one of the highlights of the day is spotting a Hornbill in flight across the sky. The rapid flap-flap-flap, glide……flap-flap-flap, glide…..motion is highly comical to watch. Good job I’ve always been a wildlife geek, if this is truly the height of entertainment round here!
Bell fruit ripening on the tree
Well anyway, I recently had a lovely surprise visit from a couple of Oriental Pied Hornbills, spotting their chance to strip the seasonal bell fruit from the neighbours’ tree. Chance wildlife photo opportunities don’t always work so well these days, as I usually have a baby rather than a camera in my hands. Invariably, by the time I have set the baby down somewhere suitably safe, grabbed my camera, put the right lens on, and positioned myself, the moment has passed. Not exactly spontaneous photography! Anyway, on this occasion the Hornbills were obviously feeling particularly greedy, and were happy to pose for the camera whilst eating their fill, giving me a rare and very enjoyable five minutes with them.
Bell fruit are also known as wax apples, and I think the two names combine to give a good sense of what they are like. Pretty, but definitely not the tastiest fruit I have ever eaten. But the omnivorous Oriental Pied Hornbill is a serious fruit fan. With bell fruit being a seasonal delicacy, even tackling the slightly under-ripe and crunchy ones seemed to bring them great delight.
Crunchy bell fruit snacks
I’d never previously been fortunate enough to observe them eating at close quarters. Their technique is quite something. They have incredibly long beaks, but in something of a design flaw, their tongues don’t quite measure up. So anything held at the end of their beak has to be tossed into the air, with the Hornbill jerking their head back to release the object at the right trajectory for it to drop back into their gaping mouth. At least, that is the plan. As this Hornbill discovered, sometimes bell fruit can be a tricky catch. He eyed up the floor in great disappointment for a couple of minutes before giving an almost visible sigh and a shrug, and setting off with a flap-flap-flap, glide…, in search of more tasty morsels.