Ground hornbill

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Ground hornbill
Temporal range: Middle Miocene to present
Bucorvus abyssinicus Wytsman.jpg
Head of the male Abyssinian
ground hornbill
(B. abyssinicus)
Scientific classification edit
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]


Some 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:

Image Scientific name Common Name Distribution
Nordlig hornkorp white background.jpg Bucorvus abyssinicus Abyssinian ground hornbill (also known as northern ground hornbill) southern Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea east to Eritrea, Ethiopia, north western Somalia, north western Kenya and Uganda
Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) male (12714625605), crop.jpg Bucorvus leadbeateri Southern ground hornbill northern Namibia and Angola to northern South Africa and southern Zimbabwe to Burundi and Kenya

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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