Southern Ground Hornbill

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Scientific name: (Bucorvus leadbeateri)

IUCN Status: Vulnerable

Quick Fact:  The southern ground hornbill is the largest hornbill. It has striking red facial and throat skin which contrasts with it’s black plumage. Ground hornbill get their name from their habit of walking on the ground to forage and is seldom seen flying.

Learn more: Visit the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project to learn more about the conservation work being done for this species.

Southern ground hornbills are a unique looking bird with a long thick downward curving bill with a small casque on the top. Their large eyes are a pale yellow and they have thick sturdy legs. Females and males are similar in appearance except for the violet colored patch of skin located on the throat. Males can  weigh up to 6.1 kg (13.4 lb). Females can reach up to 4.6 kg (10.1 lb). Young hornbills are a dull brown with yellowish skin that develops to red at around four years of age.

Southern ground hornbills’ habitat consists of woodlands and savannas and their range stretches from Burundi and southern Kenya in the north, west to Angola and northern Namibia, and south to South Africa. This video demonstrates White Oak’s hornbills vocalizing in the early hours of the day.

Southern ground hornbills may live as pairs or in groups of up to 11 individuals.   Groups will forage in the grasslands and roost in trees at night.  They have a very deep reverberating booming call that can carry over large distances. This video demonstrates White Oak’s hornbills vocalizing in the early hours of the day.

Pairs usually produce two eggs, three to five days apart. Only one chick usually survives. The young will fledge at 85 days of age, but will be dependent upon the adults for several more months. The adults are long-lived and may reach 50 to 60 years of age.

Southern ground hornbills feed mainly on insects, crustaceans and arachnids but will also eat larger prey such as lizards, amphibians and snakes.  Carrion, fruit and seeds may also make up their diet.

The total population of southern ground hornbills is unknown but there are about 1,500 in South Africa.  Destruction of habitat is the main reason for the decline of the southern ground hornbill. Agriculture, overgrazing the removal of trees has led to the loss of suitable habitat. Human influences such as indirect poisoning, trapping and direct shooting are also a threat.

White Oak received a pair of southern ground hornbills in June of 2015 and looks forward to contributing to the conservation and breeding of this unusual bird.