Birds of Prey Programme

Ground Hornbill Project

The focus of BoPP’s Ground Hornbill work is in the Kruger National Park. The Ground Hornbill populations are carefully monitored and threats specific to each area addressed. In the Lowveld/KNP, where the bulk of the country’s wild populations of Ground Hornbills are found, the main threat is not habitat loss as such, but more likely the loss of suitable breeding sites through the loss of large trees. To address this hypothesis, the Lowveld/KNP Large Bird Project was initiated in the beginning of 2008. The aim is to ensure the survival of
Ground Hornbills, their natural habitats and associated biodiversity by:

Furthering an improved understanding of Ground Hornbill biology to secure viable populations of Ground Hornbills;

  • Ensuring that there is effective and efficient coordination of Ground Hornbill conservation activities outlined in the Action Plan from the Population and Habitat Viability Analysis (PHVA) report.
  • Securing viable habitat and promoting the sustainable utilisation and conservation of the savannas,
  • Ensuring adequate legislation and enforcement for the species and its habitat;
  • Identifying and mitigating human-induced threats; and
  • Encouraging participation and cooperation of communities and institutions.

Sexes are similar. Male: Very large unmistakeable bird with long, deep, downward-curving bill; almost all black, but white wing feathers evident in flight; eyes yellow; bare facial skin and throat sacs red; bill, legs and feet black. Female: Plumage as for male, bill smaller; face red; throat red with purplish blue patch. Immature: Browner that adult; bare skin dull yellowish brown turning redder with age; bill grey.

Distribution in South Africa
Relatively restricted and highly fragmented; range extends across the east of the country from northern Limpopo Province to the eastern parts of the Eastern Cape.

Open grassland, savanna and woodland; also cultivated lands.

Insects and snails, amphibians, diversity of reptiles, birds and small mammals; may rob raptors of their prey; rarely eats carrion and plant material.

General biology, reproduction and behaviour
Southern Ground-Hornbills are resident and territorial. Groups comprise a dominant pair with up to nine helpers. They roost in trees or on rocky ledges at night, but spend most of the day on the ground foraging or patrolling their territory.
They are monogamous, cooperative breeders. The nest is typically a large natural cavity in a tree which is lined with dry leaves, though in KwaZulu-Natal they usually nest on cliff ledges or earth banks. Nests may be re-used in subsequent years, but pairs do rarely not breed annually. Egg-laying takes place during August to January and follows the first heavy rains of summer; clutch size is usually 1-2 eggs. The female is responsible for incubation which lasts 37-43 days and during this time she is fed by the male and helpers. The second chick usually dies of starvation while the surviving chick fledges at about 86 days. Fledglings typically remain with their parental group for several years; recruitment into the adult population is low.

If one does encounter Ground Hornbill please record:
• Date
• Exact place (Exact place of encounter is for instance - 11 kms north of Satara on tar road to Olifants, etc.)
• Time of day
• Number of birds and ages (if determinable). Mature birds have the red on the faces and young ones no red (sub adults have yellow facial skin).
• Also the condition - the feathers will show this.
• Any photographs would also be appreciated.

For further information please contact Dr. Gareth Tate, Birds of Prey Programme Manager