The Oriental Pied Hornbills of Pulau Ubin, Singapore

Oriental Pied Hornbill StampDuring my recent trip to Pulau Ubin, a fairly pristine island off mainland Singapore and a ten minute bumboat ride away from Changi Point Ferry Terminal, I was lucky to find myself in the midst of the rare and endangered species of Hornbills in Singapore – the Oriental Pied Hornbill or Anthracoceros albirostris.


There used to be three Hornbill species in Singapore until they all became extinct from the island state in the 19th century due to rapid development. We are now seeing a revival of one species that I’m writing about : the Oriental Pied Hornbill . This species may have flown in from Malaysia and made its home in Pulau Ubin.  The Singapore Hornbill Project has helped increase numbers of these birds from 20 in 2004 to about 50, most of which live on Pulau Ubin.


The Oriental Pied Hornbills are truly fascinating birds, because of their large size, attractive colours,  big curved yellow beaks and the unique hollow structure or “casque” above their bills, which probably helps them make those loud cackling noises. What’s particularly interesting is their nesting habits, where the female seals herself for a period of 3-4 months while her eggs are incubating without the threat of predators. She’s solely reliant on the male to feed her and her new offsprings.


I personally think they are very intelligent and curious birds.  As I was watching them, they seemed highly aware of my presence, and seemed to accept it as long as I didn’t venture too near. Only when they were feeding on the fruits, did I notice that they didn’t like being watched from too close.


It may have been the many fruiting palm trees that attracted a big flock of Hornbills, about ten to fifteen of them at least. I saw a couple of them taking turns at the yellow and red fruits. One was preening itself. One was pulling the dry leaves of the coconut palm; was it for the nest I wondered?  Others perched on the palms or the forest trees.  The most precious moment I captured were two hornbills exchanging fruit.  I researched on why they did so and came up with an amazing theory.  The video below compiles a part of my footage:


 If you can’t see the video,  do watch it here.

Singapore’s crowning achievement is not the decades of economic growth, but that it has kept these tiny precious pockets of biodiversity intact despite the threat of development – such as Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the last contiguous remnant of primary rainforest, and Pulau Ubin , the very last true kampong with amazing and rare wildlife on land and water.

What succeeding generations will thank us for is not the mountains of skyscrapers and oceans of concrete, but the fascinating and incomparable forest and marine treasures that we have left behind for them to savour.


PS:  2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity and we in Singapore can all play our part this year to discover our local flora and fauna of which there is an amazing variety of species.  Do join the Facebook fan page set up by Wild Singapore for Celebrating Singapore’s Biodiversity



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Posted by on Apr 4 2010. Filed under Animals/Wildlife, Biodiversity. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “The Oriental Pied Hornbills of Pulau Ubin, Singapore”

  1. Pulau Ubin is a great for a day out of Singapore, but I would recommend staying there for two to three days to really explore the island

  2. It is a shame we humans have to make a trip to see animal life when it is their homes we have usurped for ourselves. Imagine if the tide were turned and the humans were the marginalized species and other creatures came to “visit” us…..

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