What words do you use when you describe birds?
Cute? Beautiful? Melodic? Majestic?
How about “ugly”?
I don’t know about you, but when I think about the avian inhabitants of our world, I typically imagine colorful little chirpers, like finches and parakeets, or cheerful songbirds, like robins and canaries. But while those glamorous tweeties undoubtedly enjoy widespread popularity, other lesser-known squawkers rarely glide into the limelight, which is probably just as well. Otherwise they would shock us with their looks — and not in a good way!
This book provides a secret perch from which to view some of our less attractive feathered friends. “Less attractive,” however, is putting it too mildly. The flying freaks I’m about to show you are quite simply… BUTT UGLY! In fact, I believe they rightfully deserve to be listed among the top ten ugliest bird species on the planet.
So, prepare yourself for a rude awakening. If you thought only crows could have played the starring role in Hitchcock’s famous flick, think again!
“If one cannot catch a bird of paradise, better take a wet hen.” – Nikita Khrushchev
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#15. Helmeted Hornbill
The hornbill is not exactly the cutest guy in the avian world. It has a disproportionately large beak that looks like it would weigh more than its whole body. However, the helmeted hornbill is a particularly ugly member of the family. Incidentally, the helmet part of its name does not refer to a bony formation resembling protective headgear. Instead, it probably points to what the bird should be wearing to prevent people from seeing it.
Like the other birds in its genus, the helmeted hornbill has the characteristically big, hornlike bill, which contributes almost 10% to its body weight, and the worst part is that it is entirely made of keratin. Normally, this bird would be tipping over, falling flat on its face, had it not been for the fused bones in its neck that give it control over its head.
Primarily found in Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula and Borneo, the helmeted hornbill is a large bird with a body length of almost 47 inches. The long tail feathers add another 20 inches to this.
The most shocking feature of the helmeted hornbill is its fleshy, bald and wrinkled neck patch. In females, it’s a bilious variant of blue or green. In males, however, the patch is brownish red and looks like some kind ailment that needs a high dose of antibiotics. The plumage is black except for the legs and tail, which are a striking white. If all of this was not enough, the bird constantly spreads the secretion of its preen glands all over its body with its bill. This gives the beak an oily, dirty look and a distinct red color. To make matters worse, the hooting of the helmeted hornbill ends in what can only be described as maniacal laughter.
Habitat, Dietary Habits and More
At least when it comes to food choices, the hornbill is better than the raptors and has a taste for figs. When figs are not available, however, the bird takes matters into its beak and digs out insects from rotting tree barks for a quick snack. Helmeted hornbills are territorial and a male will fight off intruders using its massive casque.
The helmeted hornbill has an unusual incubation ritual in which the female seals herself inside a hole in a tree with the help of her mate. She will sit there until the 2-3 eggs of the clutch are hatched. Meanwhile, the male shoulders the responsibility of feeding the family. By the time the hatchlings come along, the female is ready to get back to work and now both take turns in feeding the young ones.
In Culture and Media
Hornbill ivory was commonly used to make belt ornaments in Japan, while indigenous peoples used the feathers to embellish head gear and clothes. Punan mythology suggests this bird is the keeper of the river between life and death.