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Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Bucerotidae
Genus and Species: Bucorvus abyssinicus

Physical Description

Abyssinian hornbills are black with white primary feathers and colored throats; males have red throats and females have blue throats. Blue skin surrounds their eyes. They have large, curved beaks used for picking up mice and other small prey. Their beaks feature casques, large keratin-based protrusion on top of their beak, have a yellow spot at their bases.

Size

These birds usually stand anywhere from 31 to 42 inches high and weigh between six and nine pounds. Their wingspan averages six feet.

Geographic Distribution

The Abyssinian ground hornbill ranges throughout sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to northern Kenya. It is found in mostly open grasslands, sparse woodlands, savannas, and forest-edges.

Status

The IUCN classifies Abyssinian hornbills as a species of least concern due to the bird’s large range and estimated population size.

Diet

Abyssinian hornbills are carnivorous. They eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, and insects.

Reproduction

Abyssinian ground hornbills live in pair, or small family groups of up to six individuals. Unlike most bird species, they nest in the ground and return to the same nest year after year. Hornbills are monogamous and will keep the same mate for many years. 

Abyssinian hornbills nest in natural holes in the earth, such as caves, tree holes, or crevices in rock faces, but unlike other hornbills, they will not seal the nest by covering the hole. The hen (female) will lay two eggs and will sit on them and incubate them till they hatch after one month. During this time, the male forages and feeds the female.

Both parents feed the hatchlings who compete for food. Since the eggs are laid a few days apart, the first hatchling has the advantage to become the stronger chick, which usually leaves the weaker chick to die of starvation. The remaining chick fledges at about three months, though the parents will continue feeding it up to one year.

Abyssinian hornbills are sexually mature when they’re four years old. Combined with only raising one chick a year, this means they do not repopulate quickly.

Life Span

Abyssinian ground hornbills can reach a maximum age of 40 to 45 years old.

Behavior

Most Abyssinian hornbills are sedentary and live in mated pairs within a defended territory. They will also live in small groups with their juvenile offspring.

They are vocal birds which make deep, booming calls to signal their presence in a territory.

Despite their impressive wingspan, these birds rarely fly. They usually patrol the ground searching for prey using their long legs. If threatened they will take flight, but only for short spans.

Fun Facts

Hornbills are the only birds with their first two neck vertebrae fused together. This helps support the weight of their large head and heavy beak.

The Abyssinian hornbill has long eyelashes to protect it from injury. The eyelashes are actually comprised of smaller, thinner feathers.