When you visit HESC for one of our daily tours, you will pass by two very vibrant and often very vocal birds, named Gumpie and Skewy. They are a breeding pair of Southern Ground Hornbills that have been part of the HESC family for the past eight years.
Skewy (the female), hatched on the 15th October 2006, and Gumpie (the male), hatched on 16th November 2003. However they arrived at the same time at HESC on the 9th June 2010.
They were brought to us by the Mabula Hornbill Project, who have been doing exceptional work for the species of the Ground Hornbill, since 1999. The species is classified as endangered within South Africa, with an estimated 1500 Ground Hornbills left in our country.
Therefore every egg is precious and every new hatchling even more so. We have been waiting eagerly yet patiently since 2010, knowing however that their sexual maturity only starts around 6 – 7 years old.
Last year, Skewy laid her very first egg, much to all of our excitement. But sadly the egg was cracked, and she did not lay a second egg. So we continue to wait for them to breed again.
Southern Ground Hornbills are monogamous, meaning they mate for life. It is normally a very fast courtship in the beginning, with the male bringing endless gifts for the female. Gifts such as bones, twigs, bones or even dead animals. In nature, the male with the biggest gift normally wins the hand of the female.
It is quite sweet to see Gumpie flirting with other female guests and curators, often bringing them a charming gift of a dead chick or a stick of sorts. Skewy pretends not to care, but if he overdoes it, she will be sure to let him know by showing him her back feathers and in some cases grabbing the gifts.
At a young age the two sexes look very similar, but as they mature, the males faces change to almost completely red, while the female is a little bit more colourful, with a striking violet blue below her bill.
With our recent announcement that the Donsie and John, two Blue cranes at the centre had laid eggs, we hope that perhaps this year will be a productive year for Skewy and Gumpie too.
We will be sure to let you know when they do!
The HESC Team.