A very large black bird with a conspicuous red face, a long decurved bill and an impressive set of eye lashes


The southern ground hornbill, is one of two species of ground hornbill, which are both found solely within Africa, and is the largest species of hornbill worldwide.

It can be found in the southern regions of Africa, ranging from Kenya to South Africa.

Within these regions, they inhabit both woodlands and savannas.


Mass: 3.8 kg (Adult) Encyclopedia of Life

Family: Bucorvidae

Conservation status: Vulnerable (Population decreasing) Encyclopedia of Life

Scientific name: Bucorvus leadbeateri

Length: 100 cm Encyclopedia of Life


Ground hornbills are largely black with white primary feathers.



The species has a large distribution range, but occurs in small densities across suitable habitats within Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The stronghold population within South Africa is found in the Kruger National Park (KNP). Southern Ground-Hornbill are residents and they occupy territories of about 100–250 km2 per group, depending on habitat quality


Getting around


The species is well adapted for the terrestrial lifestyle; they have long stout legs, and they walk on the terminal joints of their short toes. The species moves around the landscape by walking slowly in a group formation. They spend about 70% of their day on the ground, foraging for food. As big is they are, like most birds, ground-hornbill can also fly.




The Southern Ground-hornbill has five different calls. They have a sharp, fast grunt that is usually used when the birds are playing, fighting or when in distress. Also, they have a begging call that is usually used by juvenile birds when they beg for food. Females  also use the begging call during courtship feeding. They have an alarm call that is used to alert the group  when there’s a predator present. Lastly they have a four note booming call, which is used as a territorial and long-range contact call.




They usually occur in grassland, savannah and woodland habitats across the distribution range. The species is absent from arid semi-deserts and extensive forests


Conservation status and what the future holds


The  Southern Ground-Hornbill is currently classified as Vulnerable under the criteria A4bcd. In South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland the species is listed as Endangered. This listing is mainly because of severe decline in the species’ range. In South Africa the species range has declined by approximately 50%. Also the species numbers have declined by 10% over the past 30 years.


The species faces multiples threats, and it is a slow-growing species with a low reproduction rate. A Population Habitat Viability Assessment (PHVA) was conduct for South Africa. The population model indicated that the population size of Southern Ground-Hornbill in South Africa will slowly increase if anthropogenic mortalities are excluded. A conservation plan for the species has been drafted for South Africa with priorities clearly identified, the plan aims to ensure that the future of the species is secure.