The red-billed hornbill is distinguished from
its cousins by a thin red bill and pale head, as
well as by the absence of a casque on top of its
bill. The crown and nape are dark gray, the neck
and face are white, the back is sooty brown with
a white stripe down center, the under parts are
white, the primaries are black with conspicuous
white spots, and the tail is dark brown to black
with white edges. The male and female look
similar, but the female has a smaller bill.
One of the smaller hornbills, the red-billed
is 19-24 inches long and weighs less than 1
The red-billed hornbill is found from Senegal
right across Africa to Ethiopia and Somalia and
south to Kenya and Tanzania, as well as in South
Africa, Botswana, Angola and Mozambique. It
inhabits open savanna, woodland and thorn scrub.
Like all other hornbills, the red-billed is an
omnivore, feeding on fruit, insects, small
animals, birds' eggs and nestlings, and even dead
rodents. Virtually all of its food is obtained on
the ground while running about. They are expert
diggers for which their bills are well-adapted.
Breeding takes place between October and
January. Courtship displays include
"body-swaying." During displays, they
utter clucking calls with bowed head and slightly
opened wings. Once formed breeding pairs are
After mating, the female lays three to six
eggs in a tree cavity that she has sealed off
with a cementlike substance made of mud,
droppings and fruit pulp; a narrow opening allows
the male to transfer food to her, and later to
her and the chicks as they remain sealed inside.
Incubation takes 23 to 25 days, during which time
the female also molts. When the chicks are abour
20 days old, the female breaks out and rebuilds
the wall to expand the nesting area, after which
the chicks reseal the entrance. The chicks will
remain in the nest for another month and a half,
with both parents providing food for them. Chicks
fly well on emerging from the nest and never
return to it, although they may remain with their
parents for another six months.
Sexual maturity is reached between 1 and 3
years, depending on size, and the red-billed
hornbill can live for 15 years in the wild.
Red-billed hornbills are usually found in
pairs or small family parties, but during the dry
season may congregate in flocks of several
hundred at feeding areas such as water holes.
They defend territories against their own
species, but not against other hornbill species.
They move early in the morning, but return to
their regular roosts (on trees, large branches or
close to the trunk) in their territories at
Red-billed hornbills run rather than hop. They
fly with a flap-and-glide flight on relatively
short wings. The long tail may be used as a brace
while hanging on to a vertical tree trunk near a
Red-billed hornbills will forage alongside
mongooses, eating the same things, and sometimes
competing with the mongooses, although they
usually do not steal food from them. The
mongooses benefit from the warning calls that the
hornbills give when a raptor is near. Thus, the
mongooses can forage in relative peace, and tend
to post fewer guards when the hornbills are
around. The birds even give warning calls for
sightings of animals that are predators of the
mongooses but not the hornbills themselves.
genus & species Tockus erythrorhynchus
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