Silvery-cheeked Hornbill

Bycanistes  brevis

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

Distribution: There are three widely separated populations: Ethiopian Highlands, S Sudan and N Malawi; S Malawi and central Kenya south to southern Tanzania; and Malawi and central Mozambique to south-east Zimbabwe. Vagrant to north-east Zambia and possibly north-east South Africa. 

Description: 60-70 cm. Male 1,265-1,400 g; female 1,050-1,450 g. Fairly large black hornbill with silvery-grey spots on cheeks and bright white abdomen, lower back, rump and tip of tail. It is unmistakable from the sympatric but smaller Trumpeter Hornbill by its large creamy white casque and silvery-grey cheeks on large head. Male has a massive creamy casque and yellow band across the base of dark brown bill, bare blue skin around brown eyes; female is like male but smaller with small, darker casque. Juvenile lacks silvery cheeks and has smaller almost casqueless bill. 

Voice: The call is a loud braying and growling quark quark quark. Also some softer grunting contact notes while feeding. 

Audio from xeno-canto

Habits: Found in a variety of forests and woodlands from evergreen coastal in the hills up to 2,600 m elevation. It feeds mainly on fruits, its diet a wide variety from at least 26 different plant genera, especially figs and cherry-sized drupes. It feeds in the canopy but can also descend to the ground to pick up fruits or pursue prey. Animal prey includes mainly insects, as well as spiders, centipedes, lizards, fruit bats and birds and their nestlings. It may fly far to find fruiting trees and may return to the same fruiting tree daily for 3 months. Outside of the breeding season and during dry spells it becomes nomadic and may turn up far from its home range. It usually moves in pairs or as a family group together. Juveniles can form separate flocks together, and larger feeding flocks numbering up to 100 birds have been reported at good fruiting trees or feeding on swarms of locusts. It gathers at communal evening roosts, where up to 200 birds have been recorded in tall roosting trees, often segregated by sex; sometimes it mixes here with Trumpeter Hornbills. It calls more in the morning, evening and when in larger groups, possibly for information sharing around roosts.