Red-billed Hornbill

ORDER: Bucerotiformes

FAMILY: Bucerotidae

GENUS: Tockus

SPECIES: erythrorhynchus

Thin red bill and pale head distinctive, crown and nape dark gray, neck and face white, back sooty brown with white stripe down center, under parts white, primaries black with white spots, tail black. Circumorbital and throat skin creamy yellow to pale pink. 3 subspecies. Males and females similar but males slightly larger. Oakland Zoo also supports the Hornbill Nest Project.

From Senegal right across Africa to Ethiopia and Somalia and south to Kenya and Tanzania. Also in South Africa, Botswana, Angola and Mozambique. Favors open savanna, woodland or thorn scrub.

Carnivorous. Obtains almost all food on the ground while running about. Feeds largely on insects - beetles, grasshoppers, termites, ants, fly larvae. Also takes geckos, birds' eggs and nestlings and scavenges dead rodents.

Usually found in pairs or small family parties, but during the dry season may congregate in flocks of several hundred at good feeding areas, such as around water holes. They are territorial and will defend their territories against their own species, but not other species, so that several species of hornbill may have overlapping territories. Birds move to feeding areas early in the morning, but usually return to regular roost site within their territories at night. They roost in a tree close to the trunk or large branch. Like all hornbills except the large ground hornbills of Africa, Red-billed Hornbills nest in holes in trees where the female is sealed up for two to three months while she incubates the eggs and feeds the young with insects brought by the male. The female lays 3-5 eggs which she incubates from 23-25 days. The female molts and re-grows her feathers during incubation. She breaks out of the nest when the eldest chick is 21-22 days old. The chicks reseal the entrance alone using their droppings and food remains. Chicks fly well on first emergence from nest, never returning. They may remain with their parents for 6 months.

These ground-dwelling hornbills run rather than hop. They are expert diggers for which their bills are well-adapted. 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 nest hole.

Red-billed Hornbills are regularly preyed upon by large raptors and sometimes taken by puff adders. It was probably the first hornbill to be bred in captivity (1928). A captive male survived for at least 18 years. Hornbills were known to early classical writers such as Pliny (23-79AD).

The Red Billed Hornbills can be found in the African Savanna aviary near the elephants.

Although Red-billed Hornbills are found over an enormous region, they are not evenly distributed. They may be locally abundant. Hornbills are popular zoo and aviary birds, but do not breed readily in captivity, so most are still wild-caught. Listed as a species of Least Concern by IUCN.


  1. Kemp, Alan. 1995. The Hornbills. Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, Tokyo