Tuesday 21 May
Southern ground-hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Southern ground-hornbill fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
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.
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
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
Find out more
Find out more about southern ground-hornbill conservation projects:
More information on this and other bird species:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.