Thriving in seclusion: the endangered Narcondam hornbill

Award-winning wildlife photographer KA Dhanuparan remembers the “special moment” when he caught a primary glimpse of the Narcondam hornbill with its velvet-black plumage and over-sized yellow beak.

An endangered species, the fowl is endemic to the Narcondam Island in Andamans. It is the place Dhanuparan headed to on a two-day birding and images journey to doc its nesting exercise.

“From Havelock island, it took us eight hours to reach Narcondam. First, I saw a male bird with a prominent rufous head and neck, and then a female bird that was fully black. Soon, they came out in hundreds. They were flying and feeding on berries and fruits from tall trees,” he says.

However, entry to the tiny, dormant volcanic island of Narcondam, which spans an space of 6.eight, is restricted, since it’s a protected habitat for the hornbills. It is maintained by the Department of Environment and Forests of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Parenting by instance

  • The hornbills are role-model dad and mom and still have distinctive nesting habits. Says birder Ok Selvaganesh, an English instructor at the Cinchona Government High School in Valparai, “The hornbills build nests on tree cavities. While incubating, the female seals the nest with droppings, mud and fruit pulp. A small slit is left open for the male to pass on the feed every few hours to the mother and the chicks.”
  • He provides: “Though the birds are frugivores that primarily eat fruits and berries, during breeding, the males also bring insects, worms, owl kills, giant squirrels and rats to meet the high protein requirement of the chicks. I have seen the male Great hornbill clutching over 60 to 70 ficus berries in its mouth to feed its family. It is a role model in parenting.”

Dhanuparan’s self-proclaimed love for photographing hornbills led him to Narcondam. So far, he has captured the Malabar gray hornbill, Malabar pied hornbill (each endemic to the Western Ghats), the Great hornbill and the Indian gray hornbill.

K A Dhanuparan

His photograph of a Great hornbill, seated on a tree with its magnificent wings outstretched reverse a Nilgiri langur, earned him a runner-up spot in the Natural History Museum’s Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitors in 2017. Another photograph of a Great hornbill holding a prey in its beak made it to the cowl of Sanctuary Asia journal in 2013. “I spent two days at the island photographing the bird. Access to the island is restricted because it is a highly protected habitat,” says Dhanuparan.

Cusp of extinction

Shirish Manchi of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, in a YouTube uploads on conservation, explains how Narcondam hornbills confronted menace of extinction because of habitat loss and searching. If not for concerted conservation efforts, it could have been unimaginable to spice up their numbers from a mere 360 birds in 1999 to over a thousand now.

Chasing trails Narcondam Hornbill; (below) KA Dhanuparan

Chasing trails Narcondam Hornbill; (under) KA Dhanuparan
| Photo Credit:
Dhanu Paran

Yet, habitat destruction stays the greatest menace to hornbills round the world, in keeping with Nilgiris-based birder Aggal Sivalingam, the place Great hornbills will be seen in locations like Mulli in Coonoor, Mamaram in Kotagiri and in Masinagudi.“They need tall fruiting trees for nesting and breeding. Their calls are loud and aggressive, especially to send an alarm to the flock when they spot birds of prey,” he says.The Narcondam hornbill is smaller in dimension and isn’t loud, in contrast to its cousins, factors out Dhanuparan. However, being endemic to an remoted, uninhabited island, the Narcondam hornbill nonetheless faces the menace of extinction in the occasion of a pure calamity inflicting a species wipe-out.

“Those two days with the birds were unforgettable. I hope they are there when I go back someday,” provides Dhanuparan, who’s at the moment at the Anamalai Tiger Reserve filming its bio-diversity.

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