The hornbill was once the king of the birds. But he used to kill smaller birds If they made the slightest mistake. So one day all the birds got together and decided that they must have a new king. Their choice fell on the bulbul, because all the birds were convinced that he has a regal appearance and he couldn’t hurt anyone even if he wanted to. But how do we break the news to the hornbill, the birds said, He won’t be pleased!
‘I have an idea’, said the owl, ‘and I need your help woodpecker, come with me’! Sometime later the owl went to the hornbill and spoke to him ‘ O king, we feel that you should undergo a test and prove your worth, You’ll have to sit on a thick branch and break it. If you don’t succeed whoever does shall be deemed worthier of ruling us’.
‘Tell me which branch I should sit on’, the hornbill replied. And the owl pointed out a thick branch nearby: ‘that’s the branch’. The hornbill flew up to it and landed on the branch with all it might. Yet the branch didn’t break . And the hornbill said: ‘if I cannot break the branch who can! Remember, anyone who enters the contest must sit on an equally big branch!’
The owl said that the bulbul would be the next contestant. And he asked the Hornbill if the branch over there was thick enough. The hornbill saw that that branch was even thicker than the one he was sitting on, and agreed that that was a good branch for the contest. ‘If the bulbul can break that branch, the hornbill said, ‘’ he most certainly deserved to be the king’.
What the hornbill didn’t know was, was that the branch on which the bulbul was to sit on, had been bored through by the woodpecker. And so when the bulbul landed on it, the hornbill saw that he broke the branch. The hornbill acknowledging defeat flew away and the bulbul become king of the birds. From that moment on the hornbill was only allowed to sit on the branches at night and forages on the ground at day time.
Morality: a wise one is a strong one.
Eight fascinating facts about the hornbill
- Hornbills are named for their enormous down-curved bills surmounted by grotesque horny casques. In South Africa there are 4 species of hornbills. The biggest one is the Ground Hornbill (the one that features in this fable). They stand 90-100 cm (35-59 inch) tall. Males weigh between 3.5 and 6.1 kg (7.7-13.6 lb) while females are smaller at between 2.2kg and 4.6 kg (4.9-10 lb). Next to them you have the much smaller grey- billed Hornbill, red billed Hornbill (Zazu the king’s advisor in the Lion King is one!), and yellow billed Hornbill.
- Hornbills are noted for their unusual nesting habits: presumably as a defence against other animals like monkeys and snakes, the female is sealed into the nesting cavity by the male, who feeds her through a bill-sized aperture for a period from 6 weeks to 3 month while she incubates the eggs. This practice and the fact that hornbills mate for life, made them into symbols of fidelity and purity by local tribes.
- Ground hornbills are very slow breeders and, as a result, a pair produces just one brood of two chicks every nine years, only one of which survives. Immature birds within the social group work as ‘helpers’, caring for the single chick. They are listed as an endangered species.
- Ground hornbills have lived up to 70 years in captivity (life span in the wild is on average between 35-40 years). This makes them one of the world’s longest-lived birds, on par with albatrosses.
- Southern ground hornbill groups number between 2 and 11. A dominant pair will be in control of the group. Their status is decided by their size and age. The others are workers who do a lot of the flock’s hunting.
- They are excellent hunters, walking along the ground and using their huge beaks to catch a wide range of prey, including lizards, snakes, birds, small mammals, insects and even rabbits, tortoises and monkeys. They also eat seeds and fruit.
- Despite the huge size of their bills, they are relatively light, being made of spongy tissue. Still, in order to support the huge bill, the first two neck vertebrae are fused together, a unique case amongst birds.
- These are the only birds that have eyelashes!