BALTIMORE, MD — The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is happy to announce the arrival of three Von der Decken’s hornbills (Tockus deckeni) to the African Aviary. Von der Decken’s hornbill is a small member of the hornbill family and was named after the German explorer Baron Karl Klaus Von der Decken, who described this bird in his writings about his explorations in Africa.

“This bird species is especially fun to watch in our Aviary,” stated Jen Kottyan, avian collection and conservation manager at The Maryland Zoo. “They are easy to spot with their white and black feathers, and hooked beaks. The male has a bright orange beak and they are all very agile flyers. They add a new level of excitement to an already busy aviary.”

Von der Deckens are found across eastern Africa from central and eastern Tanzania, throughout Kenya, and into southeastern Ethiopia and Somalia. The birds favor the open bush and scrubby woodlands of the dry savanna and arid steppe. They are 17-20 inches long, with mainly white plumage on their body with black wings and a black tail. The male has a very distinctive red and ivory two-tone bill. The female has an entirely black bill. The long bill allows them to forage and collect food items from branches they could not reach otherwise. Their short, broad, and rounded wings are efficient for short intervals of flight but not ideal for extended periods. In the wild, their diet consists of snails, mice, nestling birds, lizards, tree frogs, seeds, fruit, berries, and insects. “At the Zoo they are fed a mixture of meat, fruit, vegetables and bugs,” continued Kottyan. “We are also in the process of station training them so we can call them to a certain perch each day to give them a good visual inspection and ensure they are staying healthy.”

Last week, some Zoo staff visited Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital to talk to some of the children about the Von der Decken’s and ask them to help us name the birds. After much debate and a round of voting, the one male and two female Von der Deckens are now named Melvin, Bubbles and No Way Noelle. “This had to be one of the most fun naming contests ever,” stated Kottyan. “The children were coming up with some great ideas, and I think everyone involved had a good time. We love the names that were chosen!”

“Any time the folks from the Zoo visit, it is always such a treat, said Kathleen Lee, Director of Public Relations at MWPH. “Getting the kids involved in naming the birds was a wonderful idea — it helps nurture an appreciation of all living creatures and it helps the kids develop their imagination. It was also a lot of fun.”

Here at The Maryland Zoo, the three Von der Deckens can be found in the African Aviary along the Boardwalk along with many other species of African birds.