Feeding ecology and diet

Hornbill diets span the spectrum from animals to fruits and seeds but most are omnivorous, mixing meat and fruit in their meals. Among Tockus, diets tend more toward insects, scorpions, lizards, snakes, and small mammals, while Ocyceros

A male wreathed hornbill (Aceros undulatus) preens. (Photo by Terry Whittaker. Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

and tarictic diets include more fruit. Omnivory is the rule among the territorial, group-living hornbills. Because animal prey often occurs at low density and is available year-round, hornbills may develop defendable territories in which dietary needs for the pair or group are satisfied. Additionally, these species maximize exploitation of their territories by using abundant but ephemeral fruit resources as they become available. The availability of fruit resources within a habitat may determine the degree of omnivory observed.

Heavy reliance on fruits requires that hornbills have large home ranges, and may affect reproductive rates. Fruit diets combined with large home ranges have important consequences for forest ecology. As hornbills travel, they disperse seeds of the fruits they relish, playing a role in regenerating the forests in which they live.

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