Bucorvus – Ground-hornbills

Long-lived, slow-breeding, and ground-dwelling. There’s more to unravel than that name hints

Bucorvus, commonly referred to as Ground hornbills, represents a distinct departure from the arboreal lifestyle typical of most hornbills. This genus includes two extant species: the Abyssinian ground hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus) and the Southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri). These birds are native to different regions of Africa, where they have adapted remarkably well to terrestrial life.

Ground hornbills are indeed turkey-like in both their stature and ground-dwelling habits. They are the largest species of hornbills, with robust bodies and long legs that facilitate their primarily terrestrial locomotion. Their black plumage, while not as vivid as that of their tree-dwelling relatives, is striking, especially when contrasted with the vivid red and sometimes purplish-blue patches of bare skin on their faces and throats. These facial features are not just for show; they play a role in species identification and sexual selection.

As omnivores, ground hornbills have a diet that includes a wide variety of food sources. However, they do show a preference for meat, skillfully hunting a range of prey from insects and lizards to small mammals and even venomous snakes. Their ability to feed on snakes has contributed to their reputation as formidable predators in their ecosystems.

The hunting technique of ground hornbills is as efficient as it is brutal. They use their strong bills to seize and kill prey, often using a methodical approach to ensure success. Their preference for foraging on the ground is reflected in their name and is a behavior that distinguishes them significantly from other hornbill species.

Ground hornbills are also noted for their deep, booming calls, which resonate through the African savannahs and woodlands at dawn and dusk. These calls are used for communication between group members over long distances and to establish territories. The sound is so powerful and low-pitched that it can be mistaken for the roar of a lion, adding to the mystique of these remarkable birds.