Bucorvus Abyssinicus

STATUS: Least concern


Moja our female and Mbaku our male are prehistoric in appearance and have remarkably long eyelashes. This young pair are very inquisitive and love to play with a range of things, including their food bowl. They have grown closer over the years and if you’re lucky you may get to see them courting, by affectionately slapping their beaks together and making a loud, clacking sound.


Northern ground hornbills live on the African savanna north of the equator and south of the Sahara Desert, from forest edge to steppe.


Hornbills eat whatever they can get, which includes locusts, lizards, snakes, turtles, birds and small mammals – as well as carrion.


Northern ground hornbills breed about once every 3 years, with on average one chick surviving to adulthood every 9 years. The breeding season varies by region, from January to November overall.


These birds are not over-hunted, but some native African tribes use the stuffed heads of adult birds as disguise when hunting game. Presumably they must kill some birds in order to make use of their heads. Habitat loss is probably a more significant threat to Northern ground hornbills than hunting, however.


  • Ground hornbills call together before dawn in a chorus of repeated low grunting notes that sounds not unlike a distant lion. They amplify their calls by inflating the big, red, balloon-like wattle below their bill.
  • Small animals need to lie low when a party of ground hornbills is out foraging because these omnivores snap up anything – from insects and lizards to small birds, rodents, tortoises and snakes as big as puff adders.
  • Ground hornbills are very slow breeders and, as a result, a pair produces just one brood of two chicks every nine years, only one of which survives. Immature birds within the social group work as ‘helpers’, caring for the single chick.
  • Ground hornbills have lived up to 70 years in captivity. This makes them one of the world’s longest-lived birds, on par with albatrosses.
  • Since traditional African cultures saw ground hornbills as harbingers of rain, killing them was taboo. Thus, sadly, with the passing of such beliefs, these birds have become increasingly threatened.