The red-billed hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus)

Sabi Sand · March 2019
By Sipho Night Sibuyi
Field Guide

On many of our game drives we have spotted these hornbills on top of termite mounds, feeding on termites early in the morning. They feed mainly on insects, seeds and fruits, and rarely on small reptiles and mammals. We have seen one kill and consume a chameleon.

Red-billed hornbills are common residents here. They are monogamous and only have one mate for life. They nest differently from other birds – they choose a natural cavity in a tree and the female goes inside it. She then seals the opening leaving only a small hole for the male to feed her through. He passes food to her while she is safely inside the sealed cavity incubating her eggs.

Recently my tracker spotted this bird and we were able to photograph it. After few minutes we saw him fly to a dead tree close by, and my tracker spotted a nest. We zoomed in on the nest with binoculars and watched him fly back and forth feeding the female inside. It was early in the morning and he was feeding her termites. Termites are most active early in the day.

We have observed that they tend to nest close to termite mounds so that they have a constant supply of food nearby.

It was an amazing sighting to observe with our guests and it was the highlight of our game drive.

By Sipho Night Sibuyi
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