Abyssinian ground hornbills are large, primarily terrestrial birds that live in savannas, grasslands, and scrub across north-central Africa from Senegal and Guinea on the western coast to Ethiopia on the eastern coast. They have to have a tree in their habitat to nest.

Physical Description

An Abyssinian hornbill's most obvious identifying feature is its large beak, topped with a bony prominence called a casque. However, they also boast striking features including long eyelashes, distinct facial markings, a yellow mark at the base of their beaks, and long legs that help them forage. Males sport blue and red coloration on their throats and blue around their eyes, while females only have blue on their eyes and throat. Males are also normally slightly larger than females. Juveniles have brown feathers and less vibrant throat coloration.

While they are able to fly, Abyssinian ground hornbills prefer to run if threatened. They will, however, fly to catch prey or defend territory.


Similar in size to a wild turkey, Abyssinian hornbills are large birds about 40 inches (102 centimeters) long and weighing up to 8 to 11 pounds (4 to 5 kilograms).

Native Habitat

Abyssinian ground hornbills span the width of north-central Africa from Senegal and Guinea on the western coast to Ethiopia on the eastern coast. Primarily a terrestrial bird, Abyssinian ground hornbills live across the savanna, in grasslands and sub-desert scrub, as well as rocky areas. They have to have a tree in their habitat to nest.


Males and females have been observed singing together in duets.

Food/Eating Habits

Primarily carnivores, Abyssinian ground hornbills eat reptiles such as cobras, tortoises and lizards, as well as mammals like hares and mongooses, and insects and arachnids. Occasionally they will scavenge for carrion to supplement their diet, as well as consume seeds and fruit. Abyssinian ground hornbills will travel up to seven miles (11 kilometers) each day in search of food, overtaking and consuming prey they encounter. These animals have been observed following ungulate herds and forest fires to feed on prey fleeing disturbances.

At the Smithsonian's National Zoo, Abyssinian ground hornbills are given Nebraska Brand Feline Diet, mice, mealworms and crickets.

Social Structure

These animals are often seen in pairs in the wild, occasionally flocking in groups to protect young.

Conservation Efforts

Preferring grasslands, this animal has done well around human development and is experiencing a diminishing threat as predators disappear. Its primary potential threat is a loss of trees for nesting due to human development. A lesser threat to Abyssinian ground hornbills is native hunters who will kill the bird in order to use its head as a mask while hunting other animals.

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