Northern Red-Billed Hornbill Fact File

Tockus erythrorhynchus

Credit: Christophe Eyquem, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons








Wild 15 years

Captive 15 years



Insects, Fruit, Eggs

Conservation Status


Least Concern

Northern red-billed hornbills are native to Africa and are best known from Zazu, a character in the animated film, "The Lion King."

These birds spend much of their day foraging in a small group on the ground. They are omnivores which feed on insects, fruit, eggs and small animals.

Females seal themselves inside a tree hollow using mud, feces and fruit. They leave just one small opening where the male can pass them food while she incubates the eggs and rears their chicks.

At present no major threats to the survival of the northern red-billed hornbill are recognized.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.


What does the Northern Red-Billed Hornbill look like?

The northern red-billed hornbill is named for the long, downward curving beak which protrudes from the head. It is colored red with some black at the base of the lower bill. Males tend to have larger bills.

Due to the large size of the bill their first two neck vertebrae are fused to provide support. The bill is an adaptation which they will use to dig for insects. It lacks the casque present in most other hornbills.

Across the head, neck and underside of the tail they white feathers with black feathers across the wings and top of the tail. Small white spots are present on the sides of the wings. A black stripe runs down the center of the head and neck.

Their legs and feet are colored black. Bare red skin is present around the eye and at the base of the bill.

An average northern red-billed hornbill will measure 48cm (19in) long and weigh 0.5kg (1.1lbs). They are one of the smaller species of hornbill.


What does the Northern Red-Billed Hornbill eat?

The northern red-billed hornbill is an omnivore. They will feed on invertebrates, small animals such as lizards and rodents, eggs, nestlings, fruits and seeds. In the dry season they may consume small amounts of grain.

Northern Red-Billed Hornbill

Credit: Brian Snelson from Hockley, Essex, England, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Where can you find the Northern Red-Billed Hornbill?

Africa is the native home of the northern red-billed hornbill. Here they can be found in Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Côte d'Ivoire; Eritrea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Uganda; Zambia and Zimbabwe.


What kind of environment does the Northern Red-Billed Hornbill live in?

They make their home in forest, woodland, open savanna and shrubland habitats.

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How does the Northern Red-Billed Hornbill produce its young?

The nest is built in a tree hollow and lined with fresh vegetation. They may use the abandoned nest of a woodpecker or barbet.

Males will determine the nesting site and bring the female items to help build the nest. The same nest may be used for multiple seasons.

Females seal themselves in the nest using a mixture of droppings, mud and fruit. She will remain there during the incubation and rearing of the chicks. The male will pass her food through a small hole.

Females will molt their feathers while they are in the nest with the chicks.

In to her nest she deposits between 3 and 5 white eggs. She lays each egg 1-7 days after the last. These hatch after a 23 to 25 day incubation period.

After three weeks she will break out of the nest and then reseal it. The chicks remain there for another three weeks before they too emerge. They can fly once they leave the nest but travel with the parents for six months.

Sexual maturity is reached by 1 year old.


What does the Northern Red-Billed Hornbill do with its day?

These birds typically forage in small family groups but may gather in groups of hundreds at a feeding site.

Much of their time is spent on the ground where they will seek out food but they do still fly.

Each pair of northern red-billed hornbills will maintain a home territory which they defend against others of their own species. They will allow other species of hornbill in to their space though.

Northern Red-Billed Hornbill

Credit: Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the Northern Red-Billed Hornbill?

Birds of prey are the main natural predator of the northern red-billed hornbill including eagles and falcons.

The population of the northern red-billed hornbill is considered stable and no major threats to their survival are currently recognized.

Quick facts

Zazu from the animated Disney film "The Lion King" is a red-billed hornbill.

The name hornbill comes from the shape of their bill resembling cattle horns.

Northern Red-Billed Hornbill

Credit: Isiwal/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


BirdLife International. 2016. Tockus erythrorhynchusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22725930A94906468. Downloaded on 09 October 2021.

Oregon Zoo. 2021. African red-billed hornbill. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 October 2021].

Lincoln Park Zoo. 2021. Red-billed Hornbill - Lincoln Park Zoo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 October 2021].

Zoo Leipzig. 2021. Northern red-billed hornbill | Zoo Leipzig. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 October 2021].

Kemp, A. and Kirwan, G., 2021. Northern Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 October 2021]. 2021. Red-Billed Hornbill Facts and Information | SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 October 2021]. 2021. Tockus erythrorhynchus (Red-billed hornbill). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 October 2021].

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