Ground Hornbills on our Reserve!
While on a visit to a small animal rehabilitation centre, I was lucky enough to see a pair of Ground Hornbills merrily roaming around their large enclosure. This endangered bird species is one of only two hornbill species which are ground dwelling and live in savannah and grassland regions of Southern Africa. I tentatively approached the enclosure not knowing what to expect out of these strange looking birds; I had never seen them in reality before. The larger of the two, the male, came up to the fence and lovingly gazed in to my eyes with beautiful long eyelashes. He moved away to find a smooth round pebble and came back to the fence offering it to me affectionately. Feeling extremely touched I leaned in to accept it until the care taker hurried over pushing my arm out of the way saying “Don’t take that from him!”.
Ground Hornbills present females with gifts as a form of courtship. Due to the fact that these birds mate for life, the presentation of a gift is extremely flattering. The care taker of this particular bird explained to me that because this hornbill had been raised by humans it perceived humans to be part of the same species. Should I have accepted the gift the bird would have been upset after my leaving.While most bird species present gifts of food or nest building materials, some birds will offer flowers, stones and other beautiful objects in attempt to impress any prospective partner.
There are only an estimated 1 500 Ground Hornbills left in South Africa and on average only producing one chic every nine years, this makes it rather difficult to keep the numbers growing. Ground Hornbills live in small groups with a dominant mating pair while the others will assist in the up bringing of the chic. Laying two eggs at a time, one chic will hatch first being almost double the size of the second resulting in the care for only the stronger of the two chics. One egg is called Cain and the other Abel as Cain kills Abel after hatching. Conservation efforts to try and grow the numbers of these rare birds is to take the second egg out of the nest before hatching and hand rearing the chic. Previous chics of the mating pair assist in the raising of new chics for up to 22-23 years in order to learn basic survival and parenting skills; after this period the females are kicked out in order to find their own breeding partner.
Ground Hornbills stay with their parents for the longest recorded time of any other bird species and can live up to about 65 years of age; a very long time to be depressed over a lost lover such as myself. Three Ground Hornbills have been recorded on our reserve which is an extremely rare and lucky phenomenon. We believe them to be the start of a new group with a mating pair and their only child. With the discovery of these three birds we are hoping to become recognised as an Important Birding Area by the IBA as it proves that our reserve is an ideal breeding ground for this critically endangered species. On your next visit, keep an eye out and you may be lucky enough to see one of these rare birds.