Tetrapod Zoology

The other ground hornbill

Ground hornbills – or bucorvids – have been Tet Zoo mainstays since the early days of 2006. However, the only species that I ever feature is the Southern ground hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri (sometimes incorrectly referred to by one of its junior synonyms, B. cafer). It’s easily recognisable for its red facial skin and low casque.


To bring balance, here’s the other species: the Abyssinian or Northern ground hornbill B. abyssinicus (this one photographed at Dublin Zoo). In contrast to its close relative, it has a much taller casque, and blue facial skin. Its throat pouch is blue in females but red in males.

Alas, poor old bucorvids: they so often get mentioned these days as mere azhdarchid analogues.


  1. #1 Mark Witton
    June 23, 2009

    “it has a much taller casque, and blue facial skin”

    Wow, that’s a coincidence. So does this.

  2. #2 Dartian
    June 23, 2009


    the only species that I ever feature is the Southern ground hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri

    This is probably another case of ‘Serengeti bias‘. If B. abyssinicus lived in the major national parks of South Africa, Tanzania, or southern Kenya – as B. leadbeateri does – it would be much more often featured in wildlife documentaries and the like.

  3. #3 John Harshman
    June 23, 2009

    Bucorvus is one of my favorite genera. But I thought you were trying to cut down on theropod posts.

  4. #4 Darren Naish
    June 23, 2009

    … I thought you were trying to cut down on theropod posts.

    Only those on Mesozoic theropods.

  5. #5 Michael Erickson
    June 23, 2009

    YES!!!! More dinosaurs!!!!! (When I said that I couldn’t get enough dinosaurs, I wasn’t just referring to the Mesozoic ones) 🙂

  6. #6 Michael Erickson
    June 23, 2009

    Sorry, I clicked “post” too soon, i meant to add this:

    Will some kind soul PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE answer my question? It’s comment 46 on the Lysorophians and aistopods article. It’s really pretty important. I’ve already begged, but no one on the previous post would take just a moment to answer it. PLEASE. Thank you.

  7. #7 Michael Erickson
    June 23, 2009

    Sorry, I just noticed that David Marjanovic did, indeed, adress my question on the previous post, but he couldn’t help out. Thanks anyway, David. If anybody can, I’d greatly apprectiate it. (By the way, I’m putting this here because I figured that since it’s the latest article, it’ll get more traffic.)

  8. #8 chiropter
    June 23, 2009

    I like the birds and non-avian theropods. More posts is cool.

    As long as we’re suggesting topics to Darren, I would love to see a discussion of the paper by Carbone et al. (2007?; if there hasn’t already been one) on the energetics of mammalian carnivory limiting upper size- and the implication that a 5 ton theropod had the same total metabolic rate as a 1 ton polar bear.
    Questions: do we really know ~1000 kg is the upper limit for past predators? Megistotherium and Andrewsarchus- isn’t there some suggestion they were larger (or no?)
    Do we believe this paper as constraining the metabolism of large theropods?
    What about the exceptions-giant pinnipeds and average whales? Why are they exceptions- and are the non-avian theropods likewise exceptions to this theory, given prey size (other ideas?)

    Two observations/questions: did dinosaurs have had indeterminate growth, like crocodiles- and how does this relate to metabolic rate/body size?
    Largest whales suggested to live incredibly long, like 200 years maybe. How does this relate to their gigantism and sauropod/theropod gigantism, whom may have had indeterminate growth, at least for sauropods?
    Also, sauropods didn’t chew (thanks Matt Wiedel.)
    Too many questions, I know, sorry

  9. #9 Zach Miller
    June 23, 2009

    So, uh, are bucorvids related to…*gulp*…corvids?

  10. #10 Darren Naish
    June 23, 2009

    Michael (comment 6): I would recommend…

    Frey, E. 1988. Anatomie des Korperstammes von Alligator mississippiensis Daudin. Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde Serie A (Biologie) 424, 1-106.

    … though this is hardly easy to obtain, so I doubt it’ll help much. We’re all happy to help with queries (we = myself and the knowledgeable regular readers), but please remember that this a blog, not a Q & A site. Are you aware of Ask A Biologist? (if not, see sidebar: it’s in ‘The ones I participate in’).

    You asked about my Heptasteornis paper. I’ve already emailed you a pdf.

    Zach (comment 9): bucorvids are hornbills, and hornbills are close relatives of hoopoes and wood-hoopoes. More details… tomorrow!

    As for chiropter’s comment (no. 8).. I’ll leave that for someone else! 🙂

  11. #11 David Marjanović
    June 23, 2009



    I’ll leave that for someone else! 🙂

    Not me, I hope — I haven’t read the paper, and have no time to hunt it down or read it now.

  12. #12 Michael Erickson
    June 23, 2009

    Ask a Biologist? Was not aware of such a thing – sounds cool. Thank you so much, Darren!

  13. #13 Michael Erickson
    June 23, 2009

    Thank you so much for the PDF! BTW, you’ll get an email about the crocodilian musculature thing – please ignore it Keep up the good work, Darren!

  14. #14 Brian Beatty
    June 23, 2009

    I always enjoy posts about hornbills, thanks Darren. About 11 years ago I went to spend a couple of weeks with a friend in the Peace Corps, in a village in northern Senegal. The hornbills living in the millet fields were some fantastic birds, even if they were the smaller, ground-nesting types.
    I’ve always thought hornbills would make for an aewsome study of how rhamphothecae are structured, although it seems like very few people in general care much about rhamphothecae, aside from Dominique Homberger. I can see a future project developing….

  15. #15 chiropter
    June 23, 2009

    Darren- meh, don’t blame you. But I am a little surprised, I kind of thought this might have been brought up when the paper first came out, it was pretty well publicized…here it is btw:
    (open access)

  16. #16 Diego
    June 23, 2009

    I love ground hornbill– it makes an excellent burger. Of course the best kind of chuck is ground squirrel.

  17. #17 Michael Erickson
    June 23, 2009

    Diego: Not funny – actually rather offensive to the animal lovers (hint hint) that read this blog.

  18. #18 John Harshman
    June 23, 2009


    … I thought you were trying to cut down on theropod posts.

    Only those on Mesozoic theropods.

    In that case, as a theropod neontologist I applaud your efforts.


    So, uh, are bucorvids related to…*gulp*…corvids?

    Yes, in that they’re both birds, and both neoavians, and both belong to the “Land Bird” clade. More than that, no. Corvids belong to the order Passeriformes, while bucorvids belong to the order Bucerotiformes. They’re a little closer to corvids than Nycticorax and Phalacrocorax are to Corax, though.

  19. #19 John Scanlon FCD
    June 23, 2009

    Michael E., you might try contacting either ‘Dino’ Frey in Germany (the author Darren cited), or his former student Steve Salisbury at the Uni of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia). These are places outside Nortn America, but Google still works there. 😉

  20. #20 Michael Erickson
    June 23, 2009

    Thank you, John! I appreciate the tip.

  21. #21 Diego
    June 24, 2009

    Michael: I too consider myself an animal lover, but I also love puns to the point that they are my Achilles’ heel. When the two meet, something has to give, and usually that something is ‘good taste’. 😉

  22. #22 Michael Erickson
    June 24, 2009

    Looking at it again, I guess “ground hornbill” is kinda “punny” 😉

  23. #23 Nathan Myers
    June 25, 2009

    Diego: I will never be able to look at a ground squirrel quite the same way again.

  24. #24 Nima
    June 26, 2009

    What’s funny is that was the bird “Zazu” from The Lion King was based on. Barely looks anything alike.

  25. #25 Darren Naish
    June 26, 2009

    No, Zazu is meant to be a Red-billed hornbill Tockus erythrorhynchus. I know these things.

  26. #26 purple_phoenix
    June 29, 2009

    That is odd because the only large ground hornbill’s I have worked with are the Abs.

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