Tuesday 18 June
Southern ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri)
Southern ground-hornbill fact file
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Southern ground-hornbill description
The southern ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) is the largest hornbill in the world and features a striking red facial and throat skin that contrasts with its black plumage (4). This species is named for its habit of walking on the ground as it feeds (3), and it is less often seen in flight (4).
The bill of the southern ground-hornbill is long, thick and downward-curving, with a small casque on the top. The eyes of this species are pale yellow, and its legs are black and quite robust (3). When it does fly, the southern ground-hornbill reveals striking white primary feathers on its wings (3), (4).
The female southern ground-hornbill differs from the male in that there is a violet patch on the throat, rather than just pure red colouration (3) (4). Juveniles are duller and browner than the adults, with brown eyes and a smaller bill (3), and individuals under two years of age have yellowish facial skin (3) (4). As the bird ages, the facial skin becomes more mottled with red and blue spots, before finally becoming entirely red at about four years old (4).
The call of the southern ground hornbill is a very deep, reverberating booming sound that can carry over large distances (3).
- Also known as
- African ground hornbill, ground hornbill, southern ground hornbill.
- Bucorvus cafer.
- Grand Calao terrestre. Top
Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund:
Mabula Ground Hornbill Conservation Project:
- A major grouping of animals that includes crustaceans, insects and arachnids. All arthropods have paired jointed limbs and a hard external skeleton (exoskeleton)
- The flesh of a dead animal
- A helmet-like structure or protuberance
- The act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible
- An organism that derives its food from, and lives in or on, another living organism at the host’s expense
- Primary feathers
- The main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of a bird’s wing
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group
IUCN Red List (November, 2011)
- Kemp, A. (1995) The Hornbills: Bucerotiformes. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
- Stevenson, T. and Fanshawe. J, (2002) Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. A&C Black Publishers, London.
Mabula Ground Hornbill Conservation Project (November, 2011)
BirdLife International - Southern ground-hornbill (November, 2011)
Vernon, C.J. and Herremans, M. (1997) Ground hornbill. In: Harrisson, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herremans, M., Tree, A.T., Parker, V. and Brown, C.J. (Eds.) The Atlas of Southern African Birds. Volume I: Non-passerines. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg. Available at:
- Coetzee, H. (2010) Observations of southern ground-hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri grooming common warthog Phacochoerus africanus. African Journal of Ecology, 48(4): 1131-1133.
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Southern ground-hornbill biology
The southern ground-hornbill is long-lived, reaching 50 or even 60 years old (4). It has a varied diet, mainly consisting of arthropods found on the ground. During the dry season, amphibians and lizards are also eaten, and larger species including snakes, hares and tortoises have also been recorded in its diet (5). The southern ground-hornbill also occasionally eats carrion, fruit and seeds (5), and will groom common warthogs for parasites which it then consumes (7).
Mating in the southern ground-hornbill occurs between September and December, and two eggs are usually laid in tree or cliff hollows (5). The first egg is laid three to five days before the second and the first chick invariably outcompetes its younger sibling (4). As only one chick usually survives to fledge the reproductive rate of this species is therefore fairly slow. One study in South Africa suggested that a family group only produce an average of one fledgling every nine years, although in other areas they may breed more frequently (5).
The southern ground-hornbill sometimes lives as a single breeding pair, but more commonly in a co-operative breeding group in which the dominant breeding pair is assisted by other members of the group (4). Groups contain around 2 to 11 individuals, and defend a territory of up to 100 square kilometres (4) using duets or choruses of calls (6).Top
Southern ground-hornbill range
The southern ground-hornbill is found in southern and eastern Africa. Its range stretches from Burundi and southern Kenya in the north, west to Angola and northern Namibia, and south to South Africa (5).Top
Southern ground-hornbill habitatTop
Southern ground-hornbill status
The southern ground-hornbill is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).Top
Southern ground-hornbill threats
Southern ground-hornbill numbers have declined over many years. For example, in South Africa it is thought that there has been a 50 percent decline in numbers from historical figures (5). Seventy percent of southern ground-hornbill habitat has been lost to agriculture, overgrazing, and a loss of suitable breeding trees (4). Other human influences include indirect poisoning, trapping, and direct shooting (4), and collisions with powerlines may also be a threat in some areas (5).
Male southern ground-hornbills are sometimes considered a nuisance to people because they attack their own reflection in windows, sometimes breaking the glass, and may be persecuted as a result (5).Top
Southern ground-hornbill conservation
The total population size of the southern ground-hornbill is unknown, but there are around 1,500 southern ground-hornbills in South Africa, with about half of them living in protected national parks (4).
The Mabula Ground Hornbill Conservation Project is conducting research and conservation activities for the southern ground hornbill in South Africa. Part of their work includes collecting and hand-rearing second-hatched chicks that usually die. The project also provides artificial nests in areas where nest sites are limited (4). Public awareness campaigns have been recommended for the southern ground-hornbill, although in some places tribal folklore still protects this charismatic bird (5).Top
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