Hornbills have become a beloved children’s character thanks to Zazu in The Lion King yet, not many know much about them. There are many different species of Hornbill that can be found in both tropical and subtropical Africa. These gorgeous birds are well known for their long, colourful, down-curved bill. Some Hornbills are more common than others, like the Red-billed and Ground Hornbill. They are generally large birds but some can be as large as turkeys, while others (like the dwarf red-billed Hornbill) are the size of a dove. All Hornbills are equipped with a two-lobed kidney, eyelashes, and a fused together first and second neck vertebrae (for carrying those large bills).
The most common Hornbills that you will see in the Kruger National Park are the Red-billed, Yellow-Billed, Trumpeter, African grey, and the Ground Hornbill. All of these species are omnivores; they will feed on fruits, nuts, seeds, insects, scorpions, snakes and the larger species even eat small rodents like rabbits.
The hornbill is active during the day and sleeps at night in high trees to avoid predators. They have a wide variety of different sounds and will often accompany their calls with obvious physical displays. Some hornbills, like the Red-billed and yellow-billed, form part of the “head-down cluckers” (one of the two groups of Tockus). These pairs will sit and flap their wings, and pull their heads down while releasing their “tocking” sound. They do this to advertise their territory. The second group that forms the Tockus are the “Head-up whistlers”, the African grey is on one these. They will tilt their head up and release a shrill whistling call while they open and close their wings with each note.
Written By: Tersha van Staden