Red-Billed Hornbill

African Savanna


In the Zoo
16.5 inches
16.5 inches
< 1 pound
< 1 pound

Geographic Range

Geographic Range The Red-billed Hornbill is found in sub-Saharan Africa, except for forested and central regions. In the northern part of the range, it is found from the coast of Senegal in the west all the way east to Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania. In the southern part of the range, it can be found from south-eastern Angola east to Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Zambia, extending into north-eastern South Africa.

Scientific Information

Scientific Name:
Tockus erythrorhynchus

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Activity Time Frame:
Sexual Dimorphism:
23-25 days
Lifespan in the Wild:
Lifespan in Captivity:
up to 19 years


Least Concerned
Habitat Loss


The Red-billed Hornbill is about 16.5 inches in length, one of the smaller hornbills. It has whitish underparts and head with a distinct black stripe on the back of its head from crown to nape. Back and wings area dappled black and white, and the long tail is black. The beak, from which the hornbill gets its name, is long, curved and red, lacking the casque hornbills are known for. Eye color ranges from yellow to dark brown or black. Legs are grayish in color. Sexes are similar, but the female has a smaller beak.

Species Specifics

The Red-billed Hornbill can be distinguished from similar species based on its beak, with is completely red; the Von Der Decken's and Jackson's Hornbills, though similar in size and coloration, have bi-colored bills. Additionally, the Von Der Decken's Hornbill does not have the spotted wing coverts seen on the Red-billed Hornbill. Another similar species is the Yellow-billed Hornbill, which is larger than the Red-billed Hornbill, and has a thicker bill which is yellow rather than red. The Red-billed Hornbill has five recognized subspecies. They are called the Northern Red-billed Hornbill (T. e. erythrorhynchus), the Western Red-billed Hornbill (T. e. kempi), the Tanzania Red-billed Hornbill (T. e. ruahae), the Southern Red-billed Hornbill (T. e. rufirostris), and the Damara Red-billed Hornbill (T. e. damarensis). In the last couple of years, some sources have categorized the Damara Red-billed Hornbill as its own species, the Damara Hornbill (Tockus damarensis). The Darmara Hornbill has its own listing on the IUCN.

Physical Characteristics

Red-billed Hornbills spend most of their time on the ground, and their long curved bill helps them to dig in the ground for food.



The Red-billed Hornbill prefers open savanna, woodland and thorn scrub habitats.


The global population size has not been quantified, and the species is thought to be stable, common and locally abundant. The Red-billed Hornbill can sometimes even be seen around villages, rest camps, and conservation areas.


The Red-billed Hornbill eats insects, other arthropods, small vertebrates, bird eggs, fruits, and seeds. They may also scavenge.

Ecological Web

The Red-billed Hornbill is a predator to small vertebrates and insects, helping keep those populations stable. It is also prey to the Booted, Tawny, and Wahlberg Eagles, the Garbar Goshawk and the Lanner falcon. The Red-billed Hornbills also engage in social foraging with mongooses. They will forage together, with minimal food competition, and the hornbills will give warning calls when predators are around. This allow the mongooses to eat in peace and post fewer guards when they are with the Red-billed Hornbills. The hornbills also occasionally give warning calls about predators that are a threat only to the mongooses.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

The Red-billed Hornbill will leave to forage early in the morning in pairs, family flocks or large flocks. They return to regular roosting sites in the evening.


The female molts while she is sealed in the nest cavity. Molting is when lose and then regrow their feathers. Most birds do not molt all at once because it would leave them flightless and vulnerable. However, the female Red-billed Hornbill is stationary during this time, and protected by the tree cavity.

Social Behavior

They are often seen in pairs or small family flocks. During the dry season, they may congregate in the hundreds at good feeding grounds and around watering holes. They may also forage among mongooses.

Reproductive Behavior

The breeding season starts in September and runs through March, peaking between October and December. The female lays her eggs and incubates in a natural tree cavity, no more than about 9 meters off the ground. The entrance is covered up with mud, droppings, and fruit pulp until only a narrow opening is left. The male will use this opening to feed the female while she incubates the eggs, later feeding the chicks as well. The female remains inside until the eldest chick is ready to fledge.


Between 3 and 6 white and pitted eggs are laid between September and March. Incubation is carried out by the female alone while she is sealed inside the nest. After about 23-25 days, the eggs hatch. The male is responsible for feeding the female and their offspring until about 21-22 days later, when the first chick is ready to fledge. The mother breaks out of the cavity, and the chick flies will little problem. Remaining chicks cover the entrance back up until they are ready to fly. Young may remain with the parents for up to 6 months.



The Red-billed Hornbill is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN and is not listed on the CITES appendices at all. Their population is thought to be stable, local and abundant. Though their range is quite large, they are not evenly distributed over the area.


Not much is known about historical information on the Red-billed Hornbill.

Current Threats

Our Role

The Oakland Zoo partners with the Hornbill Nest Project, which is based in Thailand and focuses on the Hornbills of Southeast Asia. It promotes nest protection and monitoring by villagers, community education programs, and research on hornbill range and status within Thailand. Though the Red-billed Hornbill is not part of this conservation, their nesting pattern is the same as other hornbills.

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Fascinating Facts

The Red-billed Hornbill is the inspiration behind the character Zazu from The Lion King

Hornbills are thought to be called thus because the bill reminded people of cattle horns.

Red-billed Hornbills live and forage on the ground, so they spend a lot of the time running on the ground (they run rather than hop).

The long tail is thought to help brace the Red-billed Hornbill as it hangs on to a vertical tree trunk near a nest hole.

Hornbills were known to early classical writers, such as Pliny who lived from 23-79 AD.