What would you do if you went for a shower and suddenly you are greeted by the sight of a Malabar Grey Hornbill an arm’s length away? Surprises like these are quite common at Frolic Boonies Summer Camp site Deep Jungle Home nestled away in the jungles of Mudumalai, in the land of elephants, leopards, civet cats, giant squirrels and everything else the South Indian jungle can throw your way.
Every evening, the Malabar Grey Hornbills (Ocyceros griseus) promptly makes their appearance on the Singapore cherry tree when it’s in full fruit, to have a feast on the ripe berries. These slaty grey birds are unlike most other members of the Hornbill family in that they lack the characteristic casque on the head. Hornbills can be seen in a verity of habitats from moist deciduous to evergreen to even dry deciduous and mixed types of forests. Their swooshing, gliding flight is like that of the Archaeopteryx, an ancient bird that lived much before the first modern day birds could appear.
Ficus trees are a favorite haunt for these birds especially when they are in fruit. These large majestic trees also serve as nest trees for these cavity nesters. The males seal up the female in the cavity with mud and other material where she lays the eggs and incubates them, while the male goes out in search of fruit and returns periodically to feed her. After the eggs hatch, the female breaks through the mud wall, comes out and then promptly seals the chicks inside. Now, both parents are involved in taking care of the chicks food requirements with one member standing guard at all times by the nest. When the chicks are old enough, they break through the mud and step out for the first time into their new homes- the Indian Jungle.
So, coming to our regular patrons of the Singapore cherry tree, most days these birds can be seen hopping about on the tree looking for ripe berries to pick. On one such occasion, after a quick shower when I had just got out from the bathrooms, there was this majestic Malabar Grey Hornbill a few feet above my head.
Their raucous cackling is unmistakable, and watching these graceful fliers as they glide from tree to tree is only far too amusing. Their antics as they squabble with the giant squirrels for the best berries are hilarious. These birds however are very shy and will take off at the slightest noise, so be very careful when you watch them from the dining hall, or else you risk scaring them off.
The Singapore cherry with its low hanging branches is the best spot to look out for these lovely birds, especially during the fruiting season. These birds feed on berries, smaller fruits, insects and even the occasional lizard. So, guaranteed sightings on the tree are not possible, but lady luck favors the bold at times.
Yet another shot of the Malabar Grey Hornbill as it looks at the branches of the Singapore cherry tree, scanning them for the ripest berries that it can gobble up before its furry friend the Giant Squirrel works up an appetite and comes calling.
Author: Joiston Perira – A Naturalist with passion for conserving wildlife and natural habitat, he recently revived the annual bird survey / census at various water bodies / lakes of Bangalore.0