Denver Zoo Map

Bucorvus abyssinicus



Class: Aves
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Bucerotidae
Genus: Bucorvus
Species: abyssinicus


Fun Facts

  • Hornbills are the only birds that have the first two neck vertebrae fused together. Along with strong neck muscles, the fusion of the vertebrae helps support the weight of their large bill and casque.
  • The ground hornbill has very long eyelashes that protect its eyes from injury. The eyelashes are actually modified feathers.
  • Native hunters wear stuffed heads of ground hornbills as a form of camouflage when they hunt on the savannah.



The Abyssinian ground hornbill ranges throughout Sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to northwestern Kenya and Ethiopia.


Open country, grasslands, sparse woodlands, savannas and forest edges.

Physical Description

  • Ground hornbills are 31-42 inches (79-107 cm) in length.
  • They weigh between six and a half and eight and a half pounds (3-4 kg).
  • Males are slightly larger and heavier than females.
  • They have a wingspan of up to six feet (1.8 m).
  • Ground hornbills are largely black with white primary feathers.
  • The base of their black bill is red or yellow. They have bare blue skin around the eye and a large, bare, red and/or blue inflatable throat pouch.
  • A short, sharply angled casque surmounts the long, down-curved black bill.


What Does It Eat?

In the wild: These carnivorous birds eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs and insects. They may eat some fruit and seeds.

At the zoo: Ground hornbills eat a bird of prey diet, soaked dog chow, small rodents, baby chicks and insects. They are given grapes and crickets for treats.

What Eats It?

Ground hornbills are preyed on by large carnivores and other birds of prey.

Social Organization

Most hornbills are sedentary and live as mated pairs within a defended territory. This species also lives in small groups consisting of an adult pair with juvenile offspring.

Life Cycle

Abyssinian ground hornbills initiate breeding with courtship feeding, beak slapping and inspection of the nest site. A solitary pair will nest near the ground in natural cavities, such as a large tree cavity, a rock face or in a hole dug into an earthen bank, but this species does not seal the hole, unlike other hornbill species. The female lays one or two eggs and incubates the eggs while the male brings her food. She emerges from the nest daily only to preen and defecate. The nesting period is between 80-90 days, while incubation is up to 45 days. Depending on the abundance of prey, chicks may have to compete for food and after a few days, one of the chicks may die due to lack of food. The remaining chick lives in the nest for another three months. After fledging, the chick is fed by its parents for an extra nine months. These birds do not reach sexual maturity until they are about four years old. Large hornbills can live 40-45 years in captivity.


Distinctive Casque

Hornbills have a distinctive casque on top of their large bill, which is unique to the hornbill family. The casque is made of keratin that overlies bony support. The casque is multifunctional; it is used in recognizing the age, sex and species of the hornbill, amplifies vocalizations, and helps reinforce the beak. These vocal birds make a series of deep booming calls that announce their presence to other birds. The head is supported by strong neck muscles and strengthened by the fusion of the first two neck vertebrae, unique among birds.

Preen and Clean

Like all birds, ground hornbills routinely preen to maintain their feathers in good condition. They have a special preening gland that is covered with a dense tuft of feathers that improves the application of oils used to clean and protect their feathers. Unlike other birds, ground hornbills also use the oils to cosmetically color their bill, casque and white feathers with red, orange or yellow coloration.

Walk Don’t Fly

As their name implies, Abyssinian ground hornbills spend their time on the ground and prefer to walk rather than fly. When faced with danger these large turkey-sized birds will walk or run away and only fly when startled or when crossing areas with tall grass or dense vegetation. Abyssinian ground hornbills are extremely intelligent and very curious.

Conservation Connection

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The Abyssinian ground hornbill is listed as an animal of least concern due to the species’ large range and high estimated population size.