The majestic hornbill: Malaysia’s national bird

Each country in the world has its own national bird. More commonly known are the United States’ bald eagle, Australia’s emu, and New Zealand’s kiwi.

But did you know the national bird of the Bahamas is the flamingo, or Bhutan’s the common raven? Then there’s Croatia’s nightingale, France’s gallic rooster, and Finland’s whooper swan.

The colourful names don’t end there – consider Northern Ireland’s Eurasian oystercatcher, Guatemala’s resplendent quetzal, El Salvador’s turquoise-browed motmot, and Botswana’s kori bustard.

In Malaysia, the honour falls to the rhinoceros hornbill. It is also the state bird of Sarawak, where it is revered by the Dayak peoples, especially Ibanic tribes, who believe it to be the chief or supreme worldly bird.

There are many species of hornbills. The rhinoceros variety has black-and-white plumage and a red-orange casque. It features prominently on the RM5 banknote introduced in 2012, and peeks through the security-feature window on both sides of the banknote.

Rhino hornbills are revered by the Dayak peoples of Sarawak and are a ‘near threatened’ species. (Wikipedia pic)

This magnificent bird can be found throughout peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand, Borneo, Sumatra and Java, although the species is listed as “near threatened”. In captivity for conservation and reproduction, it can live up to 35 years.

Hornbills have an unusual nesting habit: they make nests inside tree trunks, and the female and chicks are sealed up inside with mud, leaving a gap just enough for the male to pass food through.

When the chicks are fully feathered and ready to leave the nest, the parents break the dried mud to release the chicks and mother.

What do birds and banknotes have in common? Bills.

The Malaysian or Malayan peacock pheasant was purportedly a contender for Malaysia’s national bird. As the name suggests, it looks like a cross between a pheasant and a peacock, with attractive, iridescent blue-green eyespots on its upper wings. It is found only in the forests of peninsular Malaysia.

The peacock pheasant stands proud but didn’t make the cut for Malaysia’s national bird. (Wikipedia pic)

Malaysia Traveller / FMT

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