Red-Billed Oxpecker Fact File
Wild 15 years
Captive 15 years
The red-billed oxpecker is native to Africa. Here they are most often seen sitting on the backs of hoofstock where they spend their time. They will feed on the ticks and other parasites attached to these animals.
These birds are named for their stocky red bill which they run through the fur in a scissoring motion to find the parasites they feed on.
Pairs of red-billed oxpeckers are monogamous and remain together through their life. They will build a nest in a tree hollow which is lined with fur and dung.
While they remain abundant the red-billed oxpecker is threatened by the reduction in populations of the hoofstock they rely on and the process of cattle dipping which removes their food source.
Learn more about these brilliant birds by reading on below.
Red-billed oxpeckers are named for their bright red bill which is stocky but short and used to gather insects from the back of hoofstock.
Their back, head and wings are colored olive-brown with a pale underside. Around the eye is a ring of bare skin which is pale in color.
The legs and feet of the red-billed oxpecker are colored grey. These are well adapted for gripping to a moving perch. This includes the powerful toes and sharp nails.
An average red-billed oxpecker will measure 20cm (8in) long and weighs 42-59g (1.5-2.1oz).
Red-billed oxpeckers are carnivores and spend much of their day riding around on the backs of hoofed animals such as zebra and gazelle. Here they can feed on ticks, leeches and other parasitic insects. They have also been seen to peck at the blood which seeps from wounds on the animals. Each day they will consume 100s of ticks.
Their position on the backs of animals also makes it possible to spot insects and then swoop down to eat them.
To find food they use a process called scissoring. This involves opening and closing the beak rapidly in hopes of finding a parasite.
These birds have also been recorded to feed on earwax and it is thought that the bacteria in this helps with digestion.
Africa is the native home of the red-billed oxpecker. Here they can be found in the following countries – Angola; Botswana; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Djibouti; Eritrea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Kenya; Malawi; Mozambique; Namibia; Rwanda; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Tanzania, United Republic of; Uganda; Yemen; Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Red-Billed oxpeckers are found in savanna, shrubland and wetland.
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Mating takes place during the breeding season from September to February.
Oxpeckers are considered monogamous but in the event their partner passes away they will find another mate. Pairs complete their courtship behavior and mating on the back of their animal hosts.
The nest is lined with the fur of animals on which they travel and with dung. This is built in a tree hollow.
In to this nest a female will deposit 2-5 eggs which are colored creamy white with darker markings across them. Both the male and female are involved in the incubation. They will raise up to three broods each season. Eggs hatch after 12-13 days of incubation.
Once they hatch the chicks remain in the nest for four months.
Red-billed oxpeckers are best known for their habit of riding around on the backs of hoofed grazing animals. Here they will feed on ticks and other parasites which are attacking the animal.
A group of oxpeckers is referred to as a “fling.”
When predators are nearby the red-billed oxpecker will let out a warning signal which serves to warn other birds nearby of the threat.
Predators and Threats
While no assessment of their population has been established these animals are considered to be decreasing.
Despite this their large population size and range has led the IUCN to retain them as low concern on their Red List.
This decline is owing to the reduction in number of large game animals which act as a host species and also due to the dipping of domestic cattle which removes their food source.
Where cattle dipping is not practiced they can make use of cattle and other farm animals to obtain food.
They are one of only two birds in their family, Buphagidae, this is the yellow-billed oxpecker. These birds are les common the red-billed.
These birds may also be referred to as the tick bird.
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Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley
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BirdLife International. 2018. Buphagus erythrorynchus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22711009A131961538. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22711009A131961538.en. Downloaded on 26 July 2021.
Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. 2021. Wild Facts Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve | Redbilled Oxpeckers. [online] Available at: <https://www.sabisabi.com/wildfacts/redbilled-oxpeckers/> [Accessed 26 July 2021].
Africa Freak. 2021. Red-Billed Oxpecker – Facts About the Piggybacking African Bird. [online] Available at: <https://africafreak.com/red-billed-oxpecker> [Accessed 26 July 2021].
Mpalalive.org. 2021. Mpala Live! Field Guide: Red-billed Oxpecker | MpalaLive. [online] Available at: <https://www.mpalalive.org/field_guide/redbilled_oxpecker> [Accessed 26 July 2021].
Oiseaux.net. 2021. Piqueboeuf à bec rouge – Buphagus erythrorynchus – Red-billed Oxpecker. [online] Available at: <https://www.oiseaux.net/birds/red-billed.oxpecker.html> [Accessed 26 July 2021].
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