Bucerotiformes – Hornbills & Hoopoes

Previously a part of the order Coraciiformes, these brightly colored birds are now in order of their own

This order, which includes hornbills, hoopoes, and woodhoopoes, is a group of birds exhibiting unique characteristics and behaviors. These birds are typically found in Africa, Asia, and Melanesia, inhabiting forests and savannas.

Hornbills are particularly notable for their impressive size and distinctive bills topped with a casque, which varies in shape and size among species. This casque can serve various functions, from being a resonating chamber amplifying their calls to playing a role in courtship displays and dominance battles. Theories suggest it might also help in foraging by protecting the skull when they hammer at trees or dig into the ground for prey.

The nesting behavior of hornbills is remarkable. In many species, the female hornbill is walled up in a tree cavity by her mate, leaving only a narrow slit through which the male provides food. This extraordinary behavior is a protective strategy against predators while the female incubates the eggs and cares for the young. During this period, the female undergoes a complete moult. Once the chicks are ready to leave the nest, the mother breaks out, and together with her mate, they reseal the chicks inside until they are mature enough to emerge.

Woodhoopoes and ground hornbills share some similarities but also have distinct traits. Woodhoopoes, with their long, curved beaks and striking iridescent plumage, are gregarious and can often be heard making their characteristic calls as they forage in groups along tree bark, looking for insects.

Ground hornbills are among the largest species within this order and are ground-dwelling, using their formidable beaks to catch a wide variety of prey, from insects to small vertebrates. They have a distinct, deep call that can be heard at long distances and are culturally significant in many African traditions.