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Red-billed hornbills have a thin, red bill and pale head with dark gray, neck and white face. Their body is sooty brown with white stripe down center, white belly, black with white spotted primaries, and black tail. Males and females are similar in appearance, but males are slightly larger.
50-60 cm (19-24 in.) total length
Less than .45 kg (less than 1 lb.)
Primarily insects, but will also take geckos, birds' eggs and nestlings; occasionally, they will scavenge dead rodents
Averages about 15 years
Senegal, Africa to Ethiopia and Somalia and south to Kenya, Botswana, Angola and Mozambique
Open savanna, woodland and thorn scrub
Not evenly distributed, but are locally abundant
Red-billed hornbills nest in holes in trees where the female seals the entrance for two to three months while she incubates the eggs and feeds the young with insects brought to her by the male.
Hornbills are unique because their first two neck vertebrae have been fused to support their large bill.
They are territorial and will defend their space against their own species, but not other species, so several species of hornbill may have overlapping territories at one time.
Red-billed hornbills have an interesting parental strategy. The female seals herself into a tree cavity, leaving only a small slit through which the male provides food. The female molts and re-grows her feathers during this time, then breaks out of the nest when the eldest chick is 21-22 days old. The chicks then reseal the entrance alone, using their droppings and food remains. Finally, the chicks fly from the nest, but remain with their parents for six months.
When the chicks are about half grown, the female breaks out to assist the male in providing food. The chicks do not leave the nest cavity until they are able to fly.
The red-billed hornbill has a close association with people, often benefiting from the insects and small reptiles that are drawn to people.
Some of their ground-dwelling relatives in South Africa and Southeast Asia can grow to stand over 3 feet tall.
ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION
The red-billed hornbill's population is strong throughout its range. However, as with any species, their future status is highly dependent on habitat integrity as concerns human interaction. Because hornbills consume a large number of insects and small animals that are seen as pests, its future is important for a healthy ecosystem.
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