Citizen-science initiative celebrating Indian Hornbills
Hornbills are crucial to the maintenance of forests, especially highly bio-diverse regions like
the Western Ghats and Eastern Himalayas. Encouraging citizens to document hornbill
sightings will fill gaps in knowledge about their occurrence and distribution, and aid long-
term conservation efforts.
Hornbills as charismatic species
Hornbills, with their disproportionately large beaks and the casques that adorn them, are
among the more easily identifiable birds in the landscapes they occupy, be it a forest in
Arunachal Pradesh or a park in a crowded metropolis like New Delhi. Their plumage is made
up of contrasting colours, and some species have brightly coloured patches of loose skin on
their throats. However these birds aren’t just charismatic in appearance: Famously dubbed
the ‘Farmers of the Forest’, these frugivores help in seed dispersal of several endemic trees
and are important for survival and upkeep of entire forests.
Public engagement in hornbill conservation
On the occasion of World Environment Day in 2014, Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF)
and Conservation India (CI) launched Hornbill Watch (www.hornbills.in), a citizen-science
initiative to better understand Indian hornbills, the iconic forest birds that are fast
disappearing along with their tropical forest habitat in India and other Asian countries.
Hornbill Watch provides the spotlight on these species and allows users to contribute
towards increasing our understanding of hornbill distribution and their conservation by
sharing hornbill sightings and images.
Hornbills in India
India is home to nine species of hornbill: The Great Hornbill, Rufous-necked Hornbill,
Wreathed Hornbill, Narcondam Hornbill, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill,
White-throated Brown Hornbill, Malabar Grey Hornbill, and the Indian Grey Hornbill. The
Great hornbill is the largest species in the country. Five species are found in the north-
eastern states of which the Wreathed hornbill, Rufous-necked hornbill and the White-
throated brown hornbill are restricted to this region within India, although they have a
wider distribution in South-east Asia. The Narcondam hornbill is found only on Narcondam
island in the Bay of Bengal. The Indian grey hornbill occurs in the Indian sub-continent, while
the Malabar Pied hornbill is found only in India and Sri Lanka, and the Malabar grey hornbill
is endemic to the Western Ghats.
Hornbill Watch – how does it work?
Hornbill Watch is a website where anybody can share details of a hornbill sighting from
anywhere in India. Entry submission is quick and simple since contributors can send in their
records without having to log in or register. This website can be used by people from all
backgrounds. Being a wildlife conservationist or photographer, or even an avid birder, is not
a necessity. One can find information on Asian hornbills in general, and detailed
descriptions of the nine species found in India by way of short accounts pertaining to their
distribution and evolution, diet and conservation status. Moreover, the gallery contains
stunning photographs of hornbills and record shots of interesting behaviours that have been
sent in by other contributors.
Posting a record is easy! One has to provide details of the species sighted, numbers seen,
approximate location and, if possible, other demographic information such as the age or sex
of the bird and the behaviour exhibited. All images are credited to the contributor. The
uploaded images appear immediately in the gallery section and can be shared socially
through the integrated Facebook plugin. The data generated is summarized, analyzed and
shared on the website periodically. A detailed report will be available to all contributors.
Click here to upload right away: http://hornbills.in as well as read more about hornbills.
How does this help us?
While there are several limitations to the conclusions and inferences we may draw from the
records submitted to Hornbill Watch, they provide important information that is worth
exploring in terms of hornbill occurrence. For example, records show that the Indian grey
hornbill is found in public parks or degraded land in highly developed cities like Bangalore,
Mumbai and Hyderabad, which points to the adaptability of the species. Records also show
that several other hornbill species occur in areas outside Protected Areas and provides new
information on their occurrence at sites across the country. This information can augment
our understanding of their distribution, serving as a baseline to examine long-term changes
and trends. It also helps identify important nesting and roosting sites. Over time, the data
collected would help in identifying and prioritizing sites for hornbill conservation.
Hornbill Watch provides a wealth of information about the natural history of hornbills seen
around the country, unique behaviours observed, and the habitats and landscapes they
have adapted to. The most attractive feature of the website is a gallery that is filled with
remarkable photographs submitted by our contributors.
The project was initiated through a grant from the Whitley Fund for Nature, UK.