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Up to 91 cm (36 in) in length, the adult male has mainly black plumage with a golden or orange-buff head, white throat and a white tail. Its irises are reddish brown, and the eye is surrounded by naked pale blue skin. The female is a smaller, mainly black bird with a white throat and tail. Both sexes have a very large horn-coloured bill and casque. Young birds of both sexes resemble the male. Adults have up to eight folds on the pale casque, depending on age, while young birds have none.
The Papuan hornbill occurs throughout lowland forests, from sea level up to 1,200–1,500 m ASL, in the Moluccas, New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and as far east as the Solomon Islands. It is the only hornbill species native to New Guinea, and one of the largest flying birds of the region