Bird in the Lens – Southern Ground-Hornbill


Species Names

  • Southern Ground-Hornbill                                                                                     (the name includes “Southern” only because there is a related “Northern Ground-Hornbill” which occurs further north in Africa as per the extract from Birds of Africa below)

Ground Hornbill-15

  • Bromvoël (Afrikaans)                                                                                                as with many Afrikaans names this one is most appropriate, “Brom” translating directly as “drone” , “grumble” or “grunt” which describes their early morning call
  • Ingududu, Intsikizi (Indigenous)
  • Hornrabe (German)
  • Bucorve du Sud (French)
  • Zuidelijke Hoornraaf  (Dutch)
  • Bucorvus Leadbeteri  (Scientific)                                                                         The beauty of scientific names is that they are common throughout the world no matter what country or the language spoken. The first part – Bucorvus – is the Genus which  is derived from the Greek Bu- meaning ox and Latin Corvus being the fairly well known term for Crow – so literally “large crow”. The second part – Leadbeteri – is the species name which in this case is named after the British taxidermist and ornithologist Benjamin Leadbeater
Southern Ground-Hornbill, Tamboti KNP
Tamboti KNP

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Where to find it

This is another species that is easier to find in protected areas such as the National Parks in the north-eastern parts of Southern Africa. Most likely place in South Africa would be in Kruger Park.

My first sighting was during my first visit to Kruger in the early 1970’s and I still recall my surprise when we came across a small group of Ground-Hornbills on the first stretch of road as you leave Skukuza camp and head towards the Lower Sabie road. They were right next to the road and, it seemed, accustomed to the attention of passing visitors and clicking cameras (they still clicked in those days)

The distribution map below is from SABAP2

Ground Hornbill-14

Look ……..  and Listen

There is absolutely no chance of confusing this species with any other, except if you mistake it for an escaped turkey, which it does resemble up to a point with its black colouring and vivid red throat patch. In fact, it has in the past been referred to as a Turkey Buzzard. (Not to be confused with the Turkey Vulture which we encountered in Cuba)

Ground Hornbill-5

Southern Ground-Hornbill, Tamboti KNP

This is a large bird, up to 120cm long and weighing up to 6 kg and largest of all the world’s Hornbills by a long way.

They move around in small family groups, waddling slowly as they search for food – anything from reptiles, frogs, snails, even small mammals such as hares.

The call is a low-pitched booming sound, not typically bird-like at all. My first encounter with calling Ground-Hornbills was early one morning in Kruger – a group was perched in a tree, silhouetted by the morning sunlight, sounding every bit like a rock-band warming up as they called in varying tones in a rhythmic fashion. Males and females call in different tones (much like humans)

Ground Hornbill, KNP
Early morning calling from tree

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Ground Hornbill, Punda Maria
Punda Maria
Ground Hornbill, Chobe Game Reserve
Chobe Game Reserve


Probably one of the easiest birds you will get to photograph, because of its large size, vivid colouring and the fact that they are often found not too far from the road in places such as Kruger National Park

It is always pleasing if you can get close enough for a detail shot of the head with the long eyelashes often prominent and the bright red throat pouch

Ground Hornbill, Chobe Game Reserve
Chobe Game Reserve

Other Stuff

Conservation status is listed as “Vulnerable” on the Red Data list – in SA it is considered “Endangered” and may soon meet the Red Data criteria as being “Critically Endangered”. Loss of habitat is the reason for their decline coupled with the fact that on average one chick is raised to adulthood every nine years by an adult pair.

Lifespan is 30 years or more and in captivity some have lived to 70 years

Nesting is generally in deep hollows in large trees or occasionally in clefts in rock faces

In Africa it has been a focal point of some traditional cultures and is a symbol of the arrival of the rainy season, thus the taboo against killing of the species.

An older version of Roberts mentions the indigenous interpretations of the booming calls, such as the female saying “I’m going, I’m going, I’m going home to my relations”, and the male responding “You can go, you can go, you can go home to your relations!”


Roberts Birds of Southern Africa

Birdlife International

Birds of Africa South of the Sahara

SABAP2 (Maps)

Latin for BIrdwatchers (Roger Lederer and Carol Burr)

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