The male continued his craving for food; some weeks he was only interested in meat and bugs, while other weeks he gorged himself on bananas and other fruit. We believed that it was probably instinctual, and the male was looking for food that his chick needed at that stage in its development. Before too long, keepers started to hear the chick for the first time. There were mornings where the keepers could hear the chick begging for food from Mom after Dad had passed a crop full of food to his mate. The next big event—if not for the chick, then at least for the keepers—was when the chick first begged for food directly from Dad. We were excited because we were able to see the chick’s bill poking out from the small hole in the wall!
The female broke out of the nest on June 18, using her large, powerful bill to hammer away at the pseudo-wall she built to seal herself into her nest. She flew out and enjoyed fresh air for the first time in over three months! It would be normal for anyone to expect that the chick would follow Mom out into the new world; in the smaller hornbill species, this would be the natural sequence. In the larger hornbill species, however, the female breaking out from the nest is just one more step in the chick’s long road to fledging. When our female left the nest, the chick was still too young to adequately fly, so the chick and female re-made the wall she had just broken down. The still-growing chick now had two parents that were able to take food to it. The chick was on the home stretch.
July 5, 2010, was a big day for everyone. That was the day that the chick finally emerged from the nest. Its bill was much shorter than its parents, but its body was almost as large. The chick continued to be fed by both Mom and Dad. Now, some days the youngster hops around the perches begging for food from its tired parents, while other days it seems as if the parents are trying to overstuff an already full bird.
Regardless of their behavior, the rhinoceros hornbills are always putting on a good show, a great ending to this fairy tale. Come by and say “hi” to the new family the next time you are at the San Diego Zoo!
Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Secretary Bird: Not Your Average Raptor.