How Do I Love Thee?


Like a hornbill?

A special edition of WHYY’s The Pulse focused on the unique “love” relationship between male and female hornbills. The segment included comments from Professor of Biology Mark Stanback, who has studied hornbills in the African country of Namibia.

After mating, the female hornbill closes herself with in a hollow cavity of a tree, and builds up the entrance, leaving a hole only large enough to fit only the male’s beak. The female and chick may remain in the nest for six weeks, completely dependent on the male to feed them through the small hole.

Ornithologists have offered several theories about the behavior, including the possibility that it keeps the couple from cheating on one another. Stanback, on the other hand, believes it is intended to keep the female and chicks safer from predators.

He concludes, “Now that we recognize that conflict is such a big part of animal behavior, we sometimes overlook the importance of cooperation in insuring the fitness of a species.”


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