A great addition to the life list of any birder and just a fascinating bird to watch for any wildlife enthusiast, the hornbill was thankfully abundant on our safari trip to Kenya. In all of Africa there are 24 species of hornbills; just under half of the 55 species worldwide. Here are a few shots of the four species we spotted.
Southern Ground Hornbill – There are two species of ground hornbills, both occurring in Africa. As the name suggests, they live on the ground — unlike other hornbills which nest in hollows in trees. I found this hornbill in an open field in the Maasai Mara Wildlife Reserve. (Also see our Maasai Mara photos on our blog)
Von Der Decken’s Hornbill – In Kenya’s Samburu National Park there are three species of hornbill. While were able to see hornbills throughout all of the days we were in the park, this was the only Von Der Decken’s we sighted. (See what other creatures we saw in our Samburu wildlife photo gallery on our blog.)
Red-billed Hornbill – Yes, the clever little bird from the Lion King. A pair of them haunted our accommodations in Samburu and gave us a number of entertaining moments. Despite the best efforts of the camp staff, they have become aggressive little beggars in the dining area. When a guest throws a piece of bread to the crowd of watching birds, the hornbill — slightly larger than all the feathered competitors — dives into the mob and extracts the prize with its much larger, more intimidating beak. Unlike other birds which will then run off and hoard the find and shake off pursuers, the hornbill taunts the rest of the birds. He stood in the middle of the jealous circle and lunged in all directions with the bread waving out before him, as if to say, “What are you looking at? You want a piece of me? Who’s got the bread? I do.” When it was quickly established who was boss he just ate there in front of everybody. Very amusing.
Red-billed Hornbill – The beggar at the camp would give a little squeaky bark to get my attention. When I leaned down to look at him to see just how close he’d let me get — cooing at him like he was a child — he sprang into the air and I received an explosion of flapping wings up in my face while he took a gouge out of the bread roll in my hand. Then he sat on the railing a few feet away. I wadded the remainder of the roll and threw it right at him, but with a little head weave he sidestepped the projectile and snatched it out of the air. Hornbill 2, Kevin 0.
Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill — Hornbills hunt on the ground — for seeds or insects — but nest in the trees, carving a hole where the mother and her chicks will actually wall themselves in. They leave a small hole to the outside world where the male passes in food until the nest is too small to keep them all. The mother moves out but the chicks are resealed into the nest for a while longer.
Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill — Here is a shot of the hornbill digging around in the dust and coming up with a small worm. The bird extracts the meal from the dust using the tip of its long bill, but must toss the food in the air while tilting its head back to get it down its throat. Interesting to see and we watched the red-billed hornbills do this as well — when they weren’t attacking dinner tables for bread anyway.
Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbill — A close-up of the hornbill tossing its popcorn in the air before eating it.
See two more pages of bird photos from Kenya