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Great Helmeted Hornbill (1998)

Acrylic on illustration board
30" x 20"
 The massive casques adorning the beaks of many hornbill species contain mostly air, but the great helmeted hornbill (Buceros vigil) of south east Asia has a casque of solid ivory. The function of this heavy ornament is the subject of some conjecture; it certainly makes flight more difficult, even with the counterbalancing effect of elongated central tail feathers. It has also resulted quite literally in a price being put on the birds' heads, which are coveted by Chinese artisans who for centuries have used them to create delicate carvings known as ho-ting. Some authorities claim that the males have "jousting" contests. Perhaps the extra inertia helps them peck away loose bark in search of prey. My object with this piece was simply to depict the effort necessary to hoist the bird's skull into the air. At the bottom of the field a startled crested lizard (Bronchocela cristatella) scampers away as a little spiderhunter (Arachnothera longirostra) forages amongst the foliage.