STATUS IN THE WILD: Vulnerable
RANGE: Southern Africa
PHYSICAL FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS
The ground hornbills are the largest and heaviest of the hornbill species. The southern ground hornbill sexes have the same plumage, which is almost entirely black and has white wing patches that can be seen when the bird is in flight. The male has bare facial skin and an inflatable throat skin that is bright red. The females are smaller and differ by having violet-blue patches at the throat below the bill, which can sometimes cover most of the facial skin. They have a strong, black beak that gently curves downward with a small casque (helmet-like structure on top of the bill) between the eyes. This casque tends to be more developed in males. They have long eyelashes and stout, long legs. The male is generally larger than the female.
LIFESTYLE AND REPRODUCTION
Southern ground hornbills do not vocalize often. Vocalization typically occurs during the breeding season and helps with mate selection. During this time, they make sounds that are often described as booming. They create this sound by enlarging their air sacs with air and then releasing it. They also make a very low booming sound when interacting with family members, which may include eight or more hornbills living together as a single-family unit.
In their small social groups, dominant males typically earn the rights to most of the breeding, but all members of the group cooperate to raise the offspring. The breeding pairs are monogamous and have been seen to touch bills in a courtship ritual. They usually build nests in tree cavities, where the female will lay an average of two eggs between September and December. They are laid a few days apart, so the chicks do not hatch out at the same time. The female sits while the male forages and feeds her. The female only makes three to four brief trips out of the nest per day, making her largely reliant on the male and helpers to provide food. The eggs incubate about forty days, and chicks fledge when they are eighty to ninety days old. Female chicks leave the group after about two years, while young males may remain for around ten years.
Southern ground hornbills are found in southern and eastern Africa, typically the sub-Saharan region. They range from southern Kenya, just south of tropical Africa in the north, to Botswana in the south, just north of South Africa. Their range extends east to west within this region because topography and habitat are similar. While their range typically does not extend into South Africa, they have been spotted in Kruger National Park in northern South Africa.
They mainly live in open and dry climates like the savannas and grasslands of central Africa. They have also been reported to live in the forests of eastern Africa, extending to nearly 3,000 meters above sea level. These habitats experience a wet and dry season, with hornbills varying their feeding behaviors and activity levels based on seasonal availability of resources.
Southern ground hornbills are predominantly carnivorous, feeding on reptiles like snakes as well as tortoises, frogs, toads, snails, insects, or mammals like rodents or even small monkeys. Some are known to supplement their diets with fruit or seeds and even some carrion.