Southern Ground Hornbill

Bucorvus leadbeateri

Red List Status: VU – Vulnerable, criteria A4bcd (IUCN 2018)

Photo by Hugh Chittenden

Distribution: Occurs in Africa south of the equator, from Kenya and Burundi, south to Angola and parts of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. It overlaps in range with Northern Ground-hornbill over a small area in northern Kenya.  

Description: 90-100 cm. Male 3,459-6,180g. Female 2,230-4,580 g. Largest and heaviest of all hornbills with black plumage and white primaries visible in flight. Bill is black with black casque. Bare skin around eye and pouch crimson red. Female smaller than male with small blue patch on red pouch. Juvenile has browner plumage, and dull grey-brown facial skin; it reaches maturity after 4-6 years. 

Voice: The call is a deep booming 4-note hoo hoo hoo-hoo somewhat deeper and slower than Northern Ground-hornbill; both sexes call, in flight as well as while perching or walking.    

Audio from xeno-canto

Habits: The Southern Ground-hornbill occurs in savanna and woodlands, generally prefers more wooded and wetter areas than Northern Ground-hornbill but it also extends into adjacent open grasslands. In East Africa recorded up to 3,000 m elevation. It feeds mainly on animals that it catches on the ground. A large assortment of prey has been recorded, mainly invertebrates such as grasshoppers, beetles, insect larvae, snails, scorpions and termites. Vertebrate prey includes frogs, rodents from mice to hares and squirrels, snakes, lizards and tortoises. It will actively pursue prey on the ground, for larger prey several members in the group might hunt together. It also probes dead wood for larvae; it uses it huge bill to dig for food and stab larger prey. It also takes some fruits and will visit kills, mainly to search for bits of carrion and associated grubs. It is territorial and sedentary; juveniles will disburse across the home range on maturity.