Southern Ground-hornbill catches a snake

on 20th November 2010

Willis’ photographed two different Southern Ground-hornbills (Bucorvus leadbeateri) on different days when he was on an African safari in Kenya’s Masai Mara recently. Both birds are males, recognised from their bright red bare facial skin and inflatable throat. The female is distinguished by the blue patch on the red throat skin.

This is the largest and heaviest of the hornbill species, found in the woodlands, savanna and frequently, the adjoining grasslands of South Kenya and nearby southern African countries. Although large in size, it can still fly, although rather infrequently.

The inflatable throat pouch is thought to function in sound production – deep booming cries usually heard before first light and periodically throughout the day. These have been sometimes mistaken for the low groaning of lions.

The Southern Ground-hornbill feed on arthropods like insects, scorpions, snails, frogs, lizards, snakes and small mammals. Here, you see the hornbills, each with a snake clamped in his bill. The hornbill forages as it walks, striking the snake with lightning speed once it is spotted. The massive bill of the hornbill ensures that it is safe from the snake’s defensive strike, however venomous the latter is.

This post is a cooperative effort between and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

Collar, N. J., 2001. Family Trogonidae (Trogons). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.). Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 6. Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 80-127.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

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One Response

  1. tks ycwee for reporting this sighting.

    hi Ruici,

    my guide mentioned it was a puff adder species of snake (for the 2nd shot).

    on my return I read on it. puff adder appears to be the most widespread venomous snake in africa.

    Although not as venomous as the black mamba, but its wide distribution means it contributes to the highest snake fatalities of all the snakes in africa.

    a note to add on:

    on both days when we spotted the ground hornbills with the snakes, we observed the male did not consume the snake, but walked fairly long distance and dissapeared into the bush on the other side. We believed the male brought the food back to the nest either for the female, or its offsprings.

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