BALTIMORE, MD The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore today announced that a Northern ground hornbill chick has hatched. The chick is the first for the female, Blue, and male, North.

Blue and North have a breeding recommendation from the Northern Ground Hornbill Species Survival Plan (SSP) coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) but it’s taken a while to get the male to cooperate.

“In the past, each time Blue laid eggs North would push her out of the nest and destroy them, so we had to develop a nest box that only she can get into,” said Jen Kottyan, Curator of Birds at the Maryland Zoo.

The keeper team used a portion of a wine barrel and made an opening just wide enough for Blue to fit inside. That did the trick.

“This is the first time, I suspect, that she feels safe enough to protect the nest and incubate,” Kottyan said. “For his part, North is caring for the family group well. He’s patrolling outside and bringing food for Blue to feed to the chick.”

Blue will remain in the box with the altricial chick for some time, giving it the extensive prenatal care it needs to survive. It will be about two weeks before the chick’s eyes fully open and 80 to 90 days before it fledges.

The keepers will closely monitor the family.

“This is a learning curve for the new parents. So far so good. We’re optimistic about the chick’s long term viability based on what we’re seeing,” Kottyan said.

In the wild, northern ground hornbills pair up and breed after preparing their nest site together. Females nest in excavated cavities in earthen banks. They lay clutches of 1-2 eggs and incubate them for 37-41 days. Unlike other hornbill species, female ground hornbills do not seal themselves inside their nests during nesting season. Other female hornbills do, using a mixture of mud, food, and droppings.

Usually only one chick survives to fledging. If two chicks hatch, they compete for food from the parents, and the chick that hatched out first usually has a strong advantage. The surviving chick will fledge after 3 months, but will continue to receive food from its parents for up to 9 months. It takes three to four years for juvenile birds to get full adult coloration.

Northern ground hornbills are native to the African Savannah north of the equator and south of the Sahara Desert. They are large birds and very active during the day, foraging and hunting.

Learn more about Ground Hornbills