DESCRIPTION: Ground hornbills are conspicuous by their size and their striking black plumage and red wattles. A dominant female can be recognised by the patch of blue amidst her red throat patch and juveniles have drably coloured faces that turn red at about 3 years.
HABITAT: Ground hornbills can be found in grassland and savanna woodlands. They habitually occur together in groups of 4 to 5 birds and spend much time in the open scouting for their prey.
They require large tree cavities at least 40 cm wide and located 4 to 7 m above the ground for their nesting sites.
DIET AND FEEDING: Their prey comprises lizards, insects, small mammals, snails, birds and venomous snakes. They are also specialists in feeding on a tortoise as they are able to break open the shell with their strong bills.
REPRODUCTION: Ground hornbills are monogamous breeders. They reach maturity at 6 years old at which time the females leave their flocks to join up with a male group, in order to form their own flock. The dominant pair within the flock mate for life.
Once the first egg is laid the dominant female does not leave the nest except if she has to defecate. Normally one or two eggs are laid but the second chick rarely survives as the first is much further advanced by the time the second hatches.
LEGENDS: Traditionally the ground hornbill is considered a sacred ‘wise spirit’. Damage to a hornbill can only be atoned through the sacrifice of a calf and the bird is not spoken of for fear of retribution. Their distinctive call is supposed to indicate rain and in some countries their skulls and bills feature in hunters’ headdresses.