The Ground Hornbill makes a gift of a magnolia cone

Went to the zoo and took along my not very good digital when I should have taken the good one, but I’ve pics I’d not yet downloaded from the other camera. The not-as-good camera is fickle and there was a moment I was assuming had been recorded but came out blurred. I’ve written before on how I used to dance with the one of the two Ground Hornbills. Then it and its mate were moved into a neighboring pen without the length of frontal expense it previously had that gave it the opportunity to get a good run. The length of the front of the pen is just enough that a good running start would have it catapulting into the fence. This has seriously cramped our ability to dance together, which always involved the Hornbill picking up an object that it would proudly display, sometimes seeming like it would make a present of it, and then celebrating by dancing and running back and forth.

For a while we let our zoo membership lapse, and now have started it back up again as H.o.p.’s interest in the zoo has resumed. The Ground Hornbill has worn a new path around the edges of its pen, but its dancing ability, at least along the front length of the pen remains cramped.

The Hornbill continued to act as if it is cramped and even a bit forelorn as we stood in front of each other today at the zoo, ready and wanting to dance as we once did but unable.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other.

I believe it remembers me. The Hornbill is known to live to an age of 50 years. A good memory is its essential friend.

I approached and the Hornbill was ready and and came over to me and began its dance. It ran and got the requisite object. Put it down. We hopped up and down before each other in greeting. It picked back up the object. It seemed to ready itself to make that old famliar run back and forth but faced the end of the fence, only a few steps away, and remembered that run was impossible. There’s some length to run in the other direction but it’s away from the arc of visitor walkway into a area hidden by foliage and that’s no fun if your guest can’t run with you.

I’ve written before about how the Hornbill would seem to want to make a gift to me of these objects. The below picture shows today’s object, a magnolia cone. It wandered back and forth with me a bit and seemed extra earnest today about the object, like it really really really wanted me to take it. Like, “Hey, it’s been a while since I’ve seen you. It’s good to see you again. Have a magnolia cone, please.”

Below is the picture I wish I’d gotten but for no reason at all came out blurred. (The camera was having a particularly tough time.) As I was saying, after our not seeing each other in a while, the Hornbill seemed extra eager for me to finally take a present. And this time (a first) the Hornbill was persistant enough that it finally pushed his beak through the fence and since I didn’t take it, it pushed its beak as far as its could and then (which you can’t see here) craned its head from that position as far up as it could toward me, stretching with the offering in its beak, and waited, waited, waited for me to take the magnolia cone.

Not being able to take the cone I felt some conflict about it as the Hornbill was so insistent. Truth is, even had I been able to take the cone (and I could have if I had really reached for it) because I fear promoting the bird reaching out toward visitors. Like visitors feeding animals is harmful to their diet and encourages harmful behavior. Poking its beak out the fence towards humans, offering gifts, isn’t, I imagine, safe for the Hornbill. So I felt bad about what the Hornbill perhaps viewed as a failed interaction.

One of these days there will be a zookeeper around who is familiar with the bird and I will be able to learn more about this particular one and its history.

It was late afternoon by the time we were done riding the train and carousel and finished with the reptile house where the snakes were active today and most of them in constant motion, winding all around their enclosures, stretching up the length of the glass fronts, tasting air with their tongues.

An orangutan rested in deep shade close to the dry moat that separates it from visitors. It slowly munched a slice of apple, playing with its hands, testing one against the other, opening them and examining the digits, then closing, opening and examining, then closing.

Almost all the gorillas had retired to a secluded area with the exception of one young male that patroled toward the front.

The elephants were enjoying a meal of hay as we left. When we arrived they were being exercised, their keepers cajoling them to stretch and run.

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

3 thoughts on “The Ground Hornbill makes a gift of a magnolia cone”

  1. That’s interesting. According to the only thing I can find on the web about these birds, the males feed fruit, bugs and lizards to their mate and young birds. The red neck pouch means your bird is a male.

  2. Jim, I had presumed it was a male. Then looked it up and it seems the female African Ground Hornbill has an obvious purple patch on its throat. I know they’re carniverous, didn’t know they would also eat fruit. I found one site where a visitor to another zoo spoke of the African ground hornbill playfully offering “love gifts” to the keeper. They’re intelligent and from what I read it’s a challenge to keep them entertained. A few zoos have an ask the zookeeper feature on their websites, but Atlanta doesn’t.

  3. Was in Kuala Lumpur bird aviry today and a great hornbill approached the side of his fence I was standing beside, then hopped back to his fruit bowl and carefully attempted to pass me a banana piece out through the fence. He was very persistent, but I declined. I know nothing about birds but thought the behaviour very strange…felt kinda bad for not engaging it. No idea if it was male or female.

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