Horn bill watch Initiative

Prelims level : Environment – National Conservation & Mitigation Mains level :
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  • A citizen science initiative of documenting Indian hornbills is providing valuable inputs for the conservation of the unique bird.


  • Hornbill Watch (HW) is an online platform created specifically to record public sightings of hornbills from anywhere in India.
  • The idea is to encourage birders, nature enthusiasts, and photographers to share information on hornbill presence, behaviour, and conservation-related issues.
  • HW was launched in June 2014, and up to February 2017 had received 938 records from 430 contributors across India, from 26 States and three Union Territories. States from where most sightings were reported were Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Online citizen science initiatives offer an interesting approach that can potentially enable documentation and monitoring of species presence over much wider geographical and temporal scales than can be sustained by focused research projects.
  • The main objective is to generate baseline information using sight records and enable long-term monitoring of these species by encouraging citizen participation. The data obtained thus far has yielded some useful information and insights, and has the potential for enhancing our understanding of current hornbill distribution patterns, and for identifying important sites for conservation/protection.
  • Citizens can upload onto this website, sight records and/ or images of their hornbill observations from anywhere in the country. The platform has the functionality to select the exact GPS location of the sighting
  • These initiatives can also aid in large-scale data collection of basic biological or ecological parameters that do not require significant training or specialization.


  • Hornbills are among the largest birds found in the tropical forests of Asia and Africa.
  • Most Asian species are primarily frugivores and play a critical role as seed dispersers, enabling regeneration of their important food plants and helping maintain the diversity in tropical forests.
  • The family is omnivorous, feeding on fruit and small animals.
  • They are monogamous breeders nesting in natural cavities in trees and sometimes cliffs.
  • Hornbills are diurnal, generally travelling in pairs or small family groups.
  • The Indian subcontinent has 10 species of hornbills, of which 9 are found in India and adjoining countries, while the Sri Lanka grey hornbill is restricted to the island.
  • The most common widespread species in the Indian subcontinent is the Indian grey hornbill.
  • Among these nine hornbill’s species four are found in the Western Ghats: Indian Grey Hornbill (endemic to India), the Malabar Grey Hornbill (endemic to the Western Ghats), Malabar Pied Hornbill (endemic to India and Sri Lanka) and the widely distributed but endangered Great Hornbill.
  • India also has the Narcondam Hornbill species, that has one of the smallest ranges of any hornbill, found only on the island of Narcondam.
  • Hornbills are large and wide-ranging birds and most species are dependent on tropical forest habitats that contain large and tall trees
  • However, there is little information on the extant distribution of various hornbill species and the changes in their distribution over space and time.
  • Given the geographic extent of their distributions, it is difficult to monitor these changes through long-term focused research programs that are often restricted to single or few sites.


  • The decline can be attributed to clearing of forests, which eliminates the birds’ nesting sites and foraging grounds.
  • In addition, hornbills have been hunted for many years in India and Indonesia for both food and as an ingredient in local medicines and rituals.
  • Unfortunately, nesting coincides with the honey-gathering season, and the hornbill’s nesting cavities are discovered along with the bees’ honey in the large trees.
  • Most hornbill habitat, particularly in Asia, is under severe pressure from logging and rapidly expanding commercial farms of oil palm Elaeis guineensis, tea Camellia sinensis, rubber, and coffee Coffea arabica. • The hunting, has resulted in drastic declines in the geographic ranges of several hornbill species that need to travel over large distances in search of patchily distributed fruit resources.
  • Several hornbill species are known to roost communally in particular sites over many years, with many roost sites being located outside PAs where they may be more vulnerable to disturbance.


  • Given that hornbills are conspicuous, large, and easily recognisable, citizen science platforms targeted at hornbills can encourage a wider participation of citizens in documenting information on hornbills and spreading awareness of the vulnerability of these birds to the threats they face, and the importance of their conservation.
  • These citizen science platforms are especially relevant for hornbills as several species remain poorly studied and several are vulnerable to extinction, across their ranges, in short time spans.
  • It was established as a long-term initiative to help generate baseline information on the extant distribution of the nine-hornbill species, detect and document temporal changes in their geographic distributions, and to use such information to identify important areas for hornbill conservation in the country.
  • The HW platform can help identify important areas outside Protected Areas (e.g., Kaiga, and Dandeli town in Karnataka, and Ultapani Reserve Forest in Assam) in terms of the number of sympatric hornbill species, numbers and/or nesting/roosting sites.
  • This platform holds a lot of promise for long-term monitoring of hornbill distribution in India.
  • This data will be made available on request and potentially can be used by environmental lawyers for legal purposes, or by concerned citizens for taking positive action for conservation.


  • The great hornbill is evaluated as near threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is listed in Appendix I of CITES.
  • The great hornbill is the state bird of Kerala and Arunachal in India and Chin State in Myanmar.
  • The Great Hornbill is used as the logo of Kerala Evergreen FC an Indian professional football club based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India.
  • A great hornbill called William (pictured) was the model for the logo of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the name of their building
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