Ground hornbill

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Ground hornbill
Temporal range: Middle Miocene to present
Southern ground hornbill.JPG
Southern ground hornbill
(Bucorvus leadbeateri)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Bucerotiformes
Family: Bucorvidae
Bonaparte, 1854
Genus: Bucorvus
Lesson, 1830

Bucorvus leadbeateri
Bucorvus abyssinicus
See text for the possible inclusion of Bycanistes

The ground hornbills (Bucorvidae) are a family of the order Bucerotiformes, with a single genus Bucorvus and two extant species (though possibly including another genus with six extant species). The family is endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa: the Abyssinian ground hornbill occurs in a belt from Senegal east to Ethiopia, and the southern ground hornbill occurs in Southern and East Africa.

Ground hornbills are large, with adults around a metre tall. Both species are ground-dwelling, unlike other hornbills, and feed on insects, snakes, other birds, amphibians and even tortoises.[1] They are among the longest-lived of all birds,[2] and the larger southern species is possibly the slowest-breeding (triennially) and longest-lived of all birds.[3]


Ornithologists consider the hornbills a distinct order Bucerotiformes and usually raise the ground hornbills to family level (Bucorvidae) on account of their distinctness. The genus Bucorvus contains two extant species:

A prehistoric ground hornbill, Bucorvus brailloni, has been described from fossil bones in Morocco, suggesting that prior to Quaternary glaciations the genus was either much more widespread or differently distributed.[4]

It is currently thought that the ground hornbills, along with Tockus and Tropicranus, are almost exclusively carnivorous[1] and lack the gular pouch that allows other, less closely related hornbill genera to store fruit.

Recent genetic data shows that ground hornbills form a clade with Bycanistes, this clade being a sister taxon to the rest of the hornbill lineage.[5] Bucorvidae are thought to represent an early African lineage, while the rest of Bucerotiformes evolved in Asia.



  1. ^ a b Kinnaird Margaret F. and O‘Brien< Timothy G.; The Ecology and Conservation of Asian Hornbills: Farmers of the Forest; pp. 20-23. ISBN 0226437124
  2. ^ Wasser, D. E. and Sherman, P.W.; “Avian longevities and their interpretation under evolutionary theories of senescence” in Journal of Zoology 2 November 2009
  3. ^ Skutch; Alexander Frank (author) and Gardner, Dana (illustrator) Helpers at birds' nests : a worldwide survey of cooperative breeding and related behavior pp. 69-71. Published 1987 by University of Iowa Press. ISBN 0877451508
  4. ^ Kemp, A. C. 1995 The Hornbills. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. ^ Woodruff, D. S. & Srikwan, S. 2011. Molecular genetics and the conservation of hornbills in fragmented landscapes. In Poonswad, P. (ed) The Asian Hornbills: Ecology and Conservation. National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Bangkok, pp. 257-264.

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