Not vultures, and not scavengers, behold the Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri), a splendid bird up to 4 foot long, and 14lbs in weight.
Their wings can span six feet:
Our excellent guide, Charles Tareta from Kwihala Camp, found us a group of around six foraging near the Great Ruaha River; one suddenly disappeared into the bushes and emerged with a chameleon. He flew off, protecting his prize from his mates:
The chameleon was wriggly:
But he got it in place for swallowing:
Oddly, it failed to co-operate, wrapping its tail around the hornbill’s beak:
So he had no choice but to disgorge it and start again:
Finally, down it went, just a little remnant of tail spaghetti yet to disappear:
They are listed as vulnerable, as a result of habitat loss and their slow breeding cycle. They only breed every 3 years, the young are not independent for 1-2 years after fledging (the longest of any bird), and they not ready to breed themselves for 6 – 7 years. They live up to 70 years in captivity, 50-60 years in the wild.
Back to my title: like ravens and crows in the West, ground hornbills are culturally associated with death and destruction. In Tanzania, some believe that they host angry spirits, which leads to a taboo on killing them. On the bright side, in many cultures in the region they are believed to be a sign that rain is coming. On balance, then, these beliefs tend to protect the birds rather than threaten them.
It has a lovely booming call, listen here:
PS It is also one of the few birds, along with ostriches, to have eyelashes (actually modified feathers):
PPS There is one other species of ground hornbill, the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill. The females of this species have all blue skin patches; I photographed this one in Ethiopia last year.
4 thoughts on “Harbingers of death?”
Sorry not to have commented for a while! Been travelling and now we are on the home stretch arriving, God willing, into Sherborne Sunday night. Great stuff on the Hornbill and continued thanks for all your great blogs!
What a powerful looking bird. Such interesting info. Eyelashes must help keep dust out of their eyes.
Only their mothers truly love them …
Think they are rather handsome, whereas vultures by contrast are an acquired taste…!