Red-billed Oxpecker

Sable with Oxpecker in Ear, Botswana

Sable with Oxpecker in Ear, Botswana

The red-billed oxpecker is a common bird throughout Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa.  A member of the same family as the starling and myna, it is a chattering gregarious bird found atop mammals.

 

Oxpeckers are the only creature in the world whose exclusive function is to glean mammals.  They feed on the ticks that inhabit the mammal.  Ticks thrive on moisture and warmth, and with the unrelenting sun beating down on the African beasts, these mammals are the unfortunate hosts to dozens and dozens of ticks.  The oxpecker feeds on the blood that is engorged in the ticks; eats as many as 100 ticks a day. You will find them on many different four-legged ungulates (antelope, giraffe, zebra, etc.), especially those with manes.  There is also a yellow-billed oxpecker in Africa, but it is not as prevalent as the red-billed, featured here.

Sable with Oxpeckers, Botswana

Sable with Oxpeckers, Botswana

 

The short, sharp claws and long, stiff tail of Buphagus erythrorhynchus enable them to cling to the mammal, even while the mammal is walking.   You can see from this Sable photograph how well the bird can cling to various body parts.  In addition, the bird’s bill is laterally flattened and has a sharp cutting edge for handling the ticks.

 

African Buffalo with Oxpecker, Botswana

African Buffalo with Oxpecker, Botswana

Often this relationship between the tick-infested mammal and the oxpecker is mutually beneficial.  The bird eats the ticks off the mammal and rids it of an irritating infestation, the mammal supplies the bird with an endless smorgasbord.  But sometimes an oxpecker will dig beyond the tick and intentionally keep the animal’s wound open to directly extract blood, because ultimately it is the blood on which the bird thrives.

 

Occasionally you might see the mammal swat its tail or shake its head to get rid of an exceptionally annoying oxpecker.  However mostly what you see, as you ride across the endless grassy plains looking for African wildlife, is the mammal grazing and the oxpecker feeding, and both are peaceably living in harmony.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

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32 thoughts on “Red-billed Oxpecker

  1. Great photos of this creature, Jet! …ultimately it is the blood on which the bird thrives, do they die from it? Thank you for the info!

  2. Isn’t nature just marvelous! I love this unusual but practical partnership. I am imagining a dialogue between the mis-sized friends. Love the photo of the African Buffalo as though he may be getting annoyed with his pecking partner.

    • I, too, think nature is absolutely marvelous, Sue. It is fascinating to see the little oxpeckers on all the big and burly African beasts. Thanks for your visit! 😀

    • Yes, it sure is. There is so much more symbiosis in nature than we humans know, but it is very enlightening when we get a few occasional glimpses. I’m happy you enjoyed this glimpse, dear Nan, and am delighted that you are always receptive and appreciative of my posts. 😀 😀

    • Resa, I went to your post and was moved by this magical mural. It is a funny thing to initially learn about an oxpecker via a human-painted mural, but I like it because it demonstrates how oxpeckers literally and figuratively get under one’s skin. He’s so whimsical in the mural, too, which I liked. They look especially odd on rhinos because of the size difference. Thanks so very much! 😀

  3. Gorgeous creature and lovely writing, as usual! Thank you so much for sharing. I always learn so much from your posts! Have a lovely new week! ❤

    • Thanks so much, Indah. I’m glad you enjoyed all the big beasts and the oxpeckers. It’s a fun combination of creatures to watch interacting. I hope you’re having a great day…. 😀

  4. Hi Jet Dear!Will you ever stop astonishing me ? !!!
    I very well remember your promise and I was looking forward to it.What a gorgeous gleaner it is and quite charming with its red bill which denotes its eclectic taste … All the photos you have included are absolutely superb especially when enlarged.There is so much wisdom and harmony in nature;all well-connected like the links of a chain,which we, humans,oftentimes break and know only to complain about the detrimental consequences.Stunned to see how they can cling to the mammal and to any part of its body and remain stable even while the mammal is walking.Lucky birds,there is always a smorgasbord available even on the move.Thank you so much for this fabulous post and the detailed photos!I always leave your post richer in knowledge.
    Have a peaceful and creative evening my lovely friend!Sending hugs & friendship your way 🙂 ღ

    • Greetings dear Doda! ☺☺🌀 Yes indeed so much wisdom in nature, and it is so fun to see it in action with the oxpecker. I am delighted and grateful for your rich comment, as always, dearest Doda. ☀️💕

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