Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill

Tockus flavirostris

Red List Status: LC – Least Concern (IUCN 2018)

Distribution: Eastern Africa; from Eritrea, eastern Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia south across Ethiopia, South Sudan, north-east Uganda, Kenya to north-east Tanzania. 

Description: 40 cm. Male 225-275 g; female 170-191 g. Combination of pied plumage and yellow bill diagnostic within range. Small slender hornbill with pied plumage and long yellow bill; from the allopatric Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill mainly by black (not reddish) skin around eye, and pink (not dusky) bare skin on throat of the male that can inflate brightly when calling during breeding season. Male has broad bill and low casque extending to tip. Female is smaller, with smaller bill and shorter casque as well as black skin on throat. Juvenile is like adult but with shorter dull yellow bill with brown spots. 

Voice: The call is similar to Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill’s but notably lower-pitched, chuk chuk chuk

Audio from xeno-canto

Habits: Appears to have been separated from Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill by a belt of unsuitable habitat of miombo woodland (Swahili for Brachystegia trees) running across southern limit of range; the two forms then developed into separate species in a typical case of allopatric speciation. This species occurs in open savannah with thorn-bushes, usually below 1,400 m elevation. It feeds on the ground or low in the bushes, picking off prey with its strong bill. It takes many grasshoppers, crickets and termites and digs into dead wood to pick out beetles and larvae. It regularly follows groups of Dwarf Mongooses in search of prey; in a symbiotic relationship, where the mammals benefit from the hornbills performing guard duties. It also takes many fruits and seeds. It is usually found in resident pairs or small family flocks and is probably territorial and sedentary throughout most of its range. In Somalia it has been reported to shift out of the arid lowlands into wetter hills outside of the breeding season.