An extraordinary bird, the Southern Ground Hornbill is as large as a turkey and its voice can be heard for over a mile. They are usually seen in groups of 5-10 individuals slowly walking along the ground, foraging. They eat reptiles, frogs, insects, hares and other small mammals.
My favorite part of this unique bird is the hollow sound it produces. Field guides describe it as a deep booming “oomph,” but to this American it is the familiar sound of blowing into a Coke bottle. If you are lucky enough to be near their territory, you can hear their resounding chorus of coke bottle tunes. As it is very loud and deep, it can be a little intimidating if you don’t know what it is. But once you know it, you can’t get enough of it.
They reside in the southern half of Africa but unfortunately their populations are declining. Conservation status is listed as vulnerable, mainly due to loss of habitat. Large efforts are underway to strengthen the population. Fortunately these birds are on this earth a long time, up to 30 years in the wild.
Bucorvus leadbeateri can often be heard in the morning. Almost every African safari I’ve been on we were out at the break of dawn; the safari vehicle still quiet with sleepy patrons. What a thrill, then, to hear nothing but that deep, harmonic anthem reverberating through the grasslands.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander