The list of species endemic to the Western Ghats is very impressive. There are a large number of plants and animals, from all kinds of orders, families and genera. Usually, many endemic species are classified as Vulnerable or Threatened. But the Malabar Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros griseus) of the Western Ghats is an exception. The species seems to be doing fairly well, flourishing in the montane rain forests and the plantations that have been established by clearing the former. A medium-sized hornbill (which happen to be a family of comparatively large birds), the Malabar Greys live in the canopy where they feed on a variety of fruits, insects, small reptiles and rodents.

Partial to fruits, they disperse the seeds of several forest trees in the Western Ghats. Unlike many hornbill species, they lack a casque (a prominent helmet-like, keratinous structure seen on the heads of some birds like hornbills and cassowaries). Pairs establish nests in the cavities of large forest trees which are used year after year. Like counterparts from other hornbill species, the females imprison themselves inside the cavities, leaving slits through which they receive food from the males.

The genus to which the Malabar Grey belongs – Ocyceros, has a purely South Asian distribution. There are two other species in the grouping, the Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris), found across the subcontinent and the Sri Lanka Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros gingalensis), endemic to Sri Lanka. Other genera of hornbills found in South Asia are Buceros, Anorrhinus, Anthracoceros, Aceros, and Rhyticeros.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a Malabar Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros griseus) picking fruit in Karnataka’s Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary. It was uploaded by Mithan B M.