WHO would have thought a bustling city such as Kuala Lumpur could be a natural habitat for hornbills.
A pair of oriental pied hornbills have been roosting in Taman Rimba Kiara, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, for at least a decade now.
Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) president Henry Goh, who is also a birdwatcher, said the hornbills were among 42 bird species found in the park.
“Back then, there was an unlikely pair of hornbills – an oriental pied and a black hornbill.
“Although they were of two different species, both got along very well and park goers often spotted the birds foraging for food together.
“The black hornbill went missing some years back and, shortly after, another oriental pied hornbill appeared.
“So, there is a pair of oriental pied hornbills in the park now, ” he said.
Goh said it was not uncommon to find these species in lowland forests such as Taman Rimba Kiara.
“Malaysia is home to 10 species of hornbills. These species can also be found in Taman Botani Shah Alam in Selangor, Taman Negara in Pahang, Belum-Temenggor in Perak and Tasik Kenyir in Terengganu, among others.
“However, what makes the sighting in Taman Rimba Kiara special is the fact that this park is smack in the middle of a bustling city.
“The hornbills used to roost overnight on a tree near a Hindu temple.
“In recent times, it will visit the park at different times of the day.
“Residents have reported seeing it in and around Taman Tun Dr Ismail.
“Its presence at any one location is unpredictable but from the past record of sightings, the park has the highest potential of getting a glimpse of it.
“It takes a lot of patience and may take two or more trips to spot the birds,” he said.
Goh said these hornbills were highly likely to have been displaced from Taman Botani Shah Alam, which has a number of oriental pied, black and rhinoceros hornbills.
“There was a fire in Taman Botani Shah Alam in the mid-1990s and it is highly likely for big birds to have flown out of the forest to escape the fire and ended up here. I think that was how these hornbills ended up here.
“Although there are not many fig trees, which the hornbills love, Taman Rimba Kiara has many mature green trees including fruit, berry and seed-bearing species, which serve as a food source for the many residents, as well as seasonal migratory birds.
“In the wild, the birds also prey on insects, small reptiles and anything they can find. This may have been the reason they decided to make the park their home.
“Sadly, both the oriental pied hornbills have white eyes, which means they are females.
“The most distinctive feature on a hornbill to determine its gender is its eyes – males have red eyes and females have white eyes.
“So, it explains why the adult hornbills have not bred. Chances for these birds to find a mate is also very slim in this forest.
“Having said that, I believe the black hornbill last spotted a few years ago was a male but there is no record of the two species of hornbills interbreeding in a natural setting,” he said, adding that hornbills can live between 30 and 35 years.
Hornbill conservationist Ravinder Kaur said it was also not unusual to spot a couple of the oriental pied and bushy-crested in secondary forests such as Taman Rimba Kiara and Taman Rimba Ampang.
“But because of rapid development, they are rarely seen nowadays. There are a few big trees for them to nest, roost and fewer food sources such as fig trees. They also need large areas to forage,” she said.
Another avid birdwatcher and Taman Rimba Kiara nature blogger Roselyn Chuah, 58, who lives very close to Taman Rimba Kiara, said she too regularly spotted the two oriental pied hornbills.
“They do fly towards the Taman Tun Dr Ismail side. Sometimes, you can hear them but you cannot see them. There used to be another Black Hornbill too but it has not been seen for a couple of years now.
“I live at the edge of the park and I do get a lot of bird sightings as the park is practically my backyard,” she said.
Long-time TTDI resident Amy J Delph, 45, said she first saw a hornbill at the night market last year.
“I was walking along Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 2 when I saw people pointing to a tree.
“When I looked up, I saw a hornbill perched on top of a tree.
“I was pleasantly surprised by its presence as I have never seen one, although I have lived here for more than 15 years.
“It was not very big but the distinctive features such as the long beak, black feathers and white chest made it stand out.
“Everyone at the night market was in awe at the sight of the bird.
“After that incident, I never saw the bird again until March this year.
“I was with my children in Taman Bukit Kiara for a scouting activity when I heard a bird call. I knew it was no ordinary bird by the loud sound.
“Moments later, I saw it fly past above us,” she said.
A post on the hornbill sighting by Goh on Facebook garnered about 4,000 likes with many making their way to the park in hopes of spotting it.
One of them was another long-time Taman Tun Dr Ismail resident C.K. Chan.
“Like many people in the neighbourhood, I too was surprised by the sighting of the hornbill.
“My wife and I regularly walk near Taman Rimba Kiara but never saw it.
“Maybe I need to be more alert to its calls and bring a binoculars with me just in case.
“The news definitely raised my interest in looking out for the birds every time I walk near the park,” he said.