The John Ball Zoo has a pair of Southern Ground Hornbills in the African Veldt exhibit near the back of the zoo. You many also see Eastern Bongo, a White Backed Vulture, some Egyptian Geese and Guinea Fowl, but I’m betting you will probably remember the Hornbills the best. They are very active in our exhibit whether chasing the other birds in the exhibit, chipmunks and any other animal that found its way into the yard, or digging things up. They love to show off to the public. Whatever “treasure’ they have found they will carry in their bill and come up to the front of the exhibit to show you. I’ve seen them carrying around everything from leaves, to sod, mice, egg pieces, worms, frogs and even bees that they have caught. Usually while parading around with their finds they will produce a loud bull frog like booming call made with their throat wattles. This behavior is used for a territorial display as well as breeding behaviors.  Also, if you have a zoom lens or binoculars, take a close look at their eyelashes! They are gorgeous!

                Our male is named Dino (born May 18, 1994) and you can tell him apart from the female because his throat wattle is almost entirely red, while our females’ (whose name is Priscilla – born September 8, 2001) throat wattle has a large patch of dark violet blue in the midst of all that red. They both interact with the public by showing off what they have caught in their bills, but I think the male does tend to do it more and he more often produces the booming call when parading before keeper staff and visitors.

                Southern Ground Hornbills are found in Africa and they are the largest of all the hornbill species in the world. They tend to spend almost all of their time on the ground, so look for them nestled in the tall grass or running around the exhibit. In the wild these hornbills would live to be around 30-40 years old. In captivity they can live up to 60 years. While we do have girl and a boy, they haven’t really shown any sign of breeding. The male likes to make nests, but the female doesn’t appear to be interested. As friendly as they appear they can be very dangerous. Their bills are very strong and they don’t hesitate to use them to try and spear you!

                So next time you are at the zoo, make sure to go see them in our African Hoofstock Veldt exhibit and try to figure out what they are carrying around in their bills! They are always surprising us with their findings!

About Julie Katt

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Julie has been a Zookeeper at John Ball Zoo since 1998.  She received a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources at Oregon State University.  

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#1 Gemma Major said:

I remember seeing the Southern Ground Hornbills in Botswana in groups of three to five. Mainly black and red they were quite conspicuous as they walked around in the dry,tall grass. Not common in the wild it looks like you have a real eye-catching exhibit at the zoo.

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