Visitors to the tiny circular park surrounding the foot of Phnom Penh’s famous landmark Wat Phnom will be amazed to see the impressive flock of great and wreathed hornbills which have now taken up residence in the heart of the Cambodian capital.
The mixed flock appears to be at least a couple of dozen or so individuals strong – (some locals may be able to cite a more precise figure) – and have carved out a comfortable existence perching in the small park’s mature trees and swooping down to the paths and grass to collect the plentiful fruit proffered by visitors.
While what is basically these days an elaborate roundabout, or traffic circle, is their principal roosting spot they can also be seen at various times of the day in various parts of the downtown area. We’ve come across them outside the Royal Palace and the National Museum or on another occasion collecting bananas left on balconies along the busy Street 154 as well as seemingly amusing themselves by swooping in front of passing tuk-tuks.
The two distinct species clearly get along well while both have become very used to the city’s human residents and even eat out of visitors’ hands at Wat Phnom. They are of course free to roam but these intelligent birds clearly know when they’re on to a good thing.
Several explanations have been offered for the birds’ provenance with the consensus being that they were originally part of the former prime minister Hun Sen’s nephew Hun To’s private collection of exotic birds kept in his Phnom Penh villa garden. Sporadic, albeit frequent, sightings have been ongoing for many years now in the city although the present size of the flock suggests that it is expanding and chicks are actually being raised in the city. (We;ve also seen a flock of 5 or 6 great hornbills outside of a coffee shop in central Siem Reap although, again, we’re uncertain as to their origins.)
Male and female great hornbills are only very slightly sexually dimorphic with the somewhat larger males possessing reddish eyes and the smaller females whitish-blue although wreathed hornbills are very distinctive with males coming with a bright yellow throat or crop and females a blue one.
Certainly an upgrade on pigeons! Wat Phom is, of course, included in our Phnom Penh day tour as featured on our Cambodia and Cambodia-Vietnam tours.