Southern ground hornbill

What does a 29 km/h (18 mph) speed coupled with a massive wingspan bring to the table? A ‘vulnerable to extinction’ title isn’t something anybody would hope for

Derek Keats

As the largest hornbill species, Southern Ground Hornbills command attention with their imposing presence and distinctive breeding habits, which reflect the slow but deliberate pace of their reproductive strategy.

Indeed, Southern Ground Hornbills exemplify the principle that good things take time, as evidenced by their remarkably low reproductive rate. Mating pairs typically produce just two eggs every nine years, and even then, only one of the two chicks typically survives to adulthood—a testament to the challenges of raising offspring in the African wilderness. While this slow reproductive rate may seem counterintuitive in a world of fast-paced evolution and adaptation, it underscores the importance of long-term investment in the survival of each individual offspring.

Despite their formidable size and striking appearance, Southern Ground Hornbills face threats to their survival, primarily due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and human disturbance. As the savannas and woodlands of Africa increasingly succumb to agricultural expansion, urbanization, and unsustainable land management practices, the natural habitats of these birds are shrinking, placing pressure on their populations. Conservation efforts aimed at protecting and restoring their habitats, implementing sustainable land management practices, and raising awareness about the importance of biodiversity conservation are, therefore, crucial for ensuring the long-term survival of this iconic species.

In addition to their reproductive habits, Southern Ground Hornbills are also known for their distinctive physical features, including a bright red patch of skin on the face extending towards the neck region. This bare skin, which contains a speck of purple among the females, serves both ornamental and practical purposes, playing a role in communication, thermoregulation, and social signaling within the group.

When it comes to diet, Southern Ground Hornbills exhibit a diverse palate, feasting on a variety of prey items found close to the ground. From small insects and reptiles to seeds and fruits, these birds play a vital role in controlling pest populations and dispersing seeds, thereby contributing to the health and functioning of their ecosystems.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2016
Botswana
2016
Burundi
2016
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2016
Eswatini
2016
Kenya
2016
Lesotho
2016
Malawi
2016
Mozambique
2016
Namibia
2016
Rwanda
2016
South Africa
2016
Tanzania
2016
Uganda
2016
Zambia
2016
Zimbabwe
2016

Did you know?

  • Known for being territorial and highly social birds that rear their offspring in groups, which involves extensive parental guidance and may last up to two years. This process is the longest of any bird species that has been observed.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Flock

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No