At the Zoo, hornbill breeding is encouraged by offering a large wooden barrel on a raised platform to simulate a hollow tree trunk. The barrel is modified with a small access door and a mounted infrared camera so that keepers can determine when eggs are laid and monitor the growth of the healthy chicks.
Nashville Zoo first bred rhinoceros hornbills in 2008. This chick was the first in the nation to be successfully artificially incubated and hand raised. The Zoo’s keepers went to great lengths to avoid imprinting the young bird. (Imprinting is when the young animal adopts characteristics of the surrogate parent making it difficult to reintroduce the chick back with its parents or other hornbills.) Keepers designed a "hornbill costume" that they wore when feeding the chicks to prevent the birds from imprinting on them. By reducing this human exposure to the chick, the chick was able to be paired up with a female at another zoo.
In 2010, the Zoo’s hornbills were able to successfully hatch and raise their own chick for the first time since their arrival at Nashville Zoo. Even though the Zoo had successfully hand raised chicks in the past, but it is more beneficial for the parents to rear the offspring themselves because it produces strong healthy chicks that are exposed to all hornbill behaviors. Having parent-reared chicks also increases the chances that the chicks themselves will be successful parents one day.
In 2017, the Zoo hatched its 14th and 15th rhinoceros hornbill chicks. The Zoo is currently home to six rhinoceros hornbills, including the two you can see on exhibit along Bamboo Trail. The Zoo’s avian team looks forward to continuing our research and conservation efforts with this beautiful bird.