Southern Ground-hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri Description
This is a large bird, at 90 to 129cm long. Females weigh 2.2 to 4.6 kg, while the larger males weigh 3.5 to 6.2 kg.
The Southern Ground-hornbill is characterized by black coloration and vivid red patches of bare skin on the face and throat (yellow in juvenile birds), which are generally believed to keep dust out of the birds eyes while they forage during the dry season. The white tips of the wings (primary feathers) seen in flight are another diagnostic characteristic. The beak is black and straight and presents a casque, more developed in males. Female Southern Ground Hornbills are smaller and have violet-blue skin on their throats. Juveniles to six years old lack the prominent red pouch, but have a duller patch of grey in its place.Distribution and habitat
The Southern ground-hornbill occurs from Kenya and the DRC to southern Africa, where it is widespread but fairly scarce in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo Province and northern Namibia. It generally prefers grassland and savanna woodland habitats, ranging from montane grassland to extensive, tall stands of Zambezi teak (Baikiaea plurijaga
), Mopane (Colospermum mopane
) and Musasa (Brachystegia spiciformi
s) woodlands with sparse understorey.Food
Mainly eats animals, such as insects, frogs, mongooses and bird nestlings. It forages in groups, so that when one bird locates a prey item it can signal the rest of the flock with a low bark. It often finds prey by digging, especially in dung heaps, and it may snatch food from birds of prey. Breeding
Monogamous, cooperative breeder, with a group consisting of a dominant breeding pair and
9 helpers, who are either adult males or juveniles from previous breeding seasons. The group roosts in trees on rock faces, descending to the ground just before dawn and foraging for a lot of the day. They often take a break at midday to play, preen and pass around food to one another.
The nest is usually a cavity in a tree lined with dry leaves, rarely nesting in cavities in rock faces or earthen banks. The same site is used repeatedly over many breeding seasons.
Egg-laying season begins with the first heavy summer rains, from August-January, peaking from October-November.
It lays 1-2, rarely 3 eggs 3-14 days apart, which are incubated solely by the female for 37-43 days. The female only makes 3-4 brief sorties out of the nest per day, so is largely reliant on the male and helpers to provide food.
The eggs hatch in the sequence laid, meaning that the one chick is 3-14 days older than the other chick. The younger chick is unable to compete for food with its older sibling, and dies of starvation when it is about one week old, occasionally surviving for a few more weeks.. The female leaves the nest when the chick is about four weeks old, after which the chick is mostly alone in the nest. The fledging leaves the nest when it is approximately 86 days old, remaining with its parents for several years.