Jackson's Hornbill
Jackson's Hornbill, male

Hornbill, Ground Hornbill, Hoopoe & Wood-Hoopoe

4 different families of different characteristics are in the order Bucerotiformes

Order Bucerotiformes – Hoopoes, Wood-hoopoes, Scimitarbills, Ground Hornbills, Hornbills

Family Upupidae – Hoopoes. They are distributed in Europe, Africa, Madagascar, Asia and India. They forage for insects and insect larvae on the ground and in dead wood. The long curved bill can be dug deep into the soil to reach a tasty larvae. They breed in tree holes and pair for a season. Africa has 2 species: The African Hoopoe and the migratory Eurasian Hoopoe.

Family Phoeniculidae – Wood-hoopoes are a family endemic to Africa. They are characterised by iridescent colours looking differently depending on the angle. The bill is long and slightly to enable them to search for insects and insect larvaes in tree holes and under bark. They won’t hammer like woodpeckers. The male is slightly larger with a longer bill. Some species live in groups, others are solitary or in pairs.
Wood-Hoopoes are in the subfamily Phoeniculinae, while Scimitarbills belong to the subfamily Rhinopomastinae. Wood-Hoopoes can be found in groups, while Scimitarbills live and breed as pairs.

Family Bucerotidae – Hornbills

The Southern Ground-Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) is an endangered species and listed in one of the 2 genus in Africa. Hunting and loss of habitat are responsible. They mainly exist nowadays in protected areas. They live in groups and members support the breeding pair in raising the chicks. The nests are in large tree holes of nowadays rare old trees. They are carnivorous and feed on reptiles even venomous snakes, amphibians, rodents and insects. The wing span is about 2 meters and they fly to go roosting on trees. They are very interesting to observe! 2 species occur in East Africa. Read more about them 

The 2nd genus Tockus Hornbills has a number of species in East Africa. They have a broad long bill in different colours depending on species, sex and age. They breed in tree holes. The female incubates the eggs while the male is feeding her through the narrow slit in the entrance closed with mud. After the young have hatched the female opens the entrance and assists the male with feeding the 2 – 3 young. In the meantime she has moulted. Their diet consists of insects, larvae, rodents and lizards. Often you can observe them near dung searching for insects. Also this genus is highly interesting to observe, for example when the male is displaying.

In the same Family but in the 3rd genus Bycanistes are different Hornbills. These are quite large, arboreal birds. Males have a conspicuous casquet on their long strong bills. They feed on fruits and are often found in fig trees with ripe fruits, but they also take reptiles. Their habitat are forests and they also breed in tree holes. Sometimes you find them in groups and their sound which can remind you of human laughter can be heard from far.

Previously they were in the genus Tockus but were shifted to the genus Lophoceros which is the 4th genus.

To give you as actual information as possible we use Avibase, the books “Birds of Africa South of the Sahara”, “Birds of East Africa”, “Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania”. Then we put the most characteristic information to the photo.

You can also follow us on Facebook “Bird photography Safaris Kenya” and see the numerous species as well as the beautiful photos from Lorenzo Barelli.

Click on the photo for larger view. The names of the photographers are on the photo and in the text. Without the generosity of several amazing bird photographers it had not been possible to create the pages with so many illustrated bird species. Those photos without name are from Elvira Wolfer.

Here you find samples of our birding safaris. Since most of the species have a wide distribution range you can find many of them during most of our tours. To find a particular subspecies we will advise on the most suitable itinerary.

African Hoopoe (Upupa (epops) africana) is found in open savanna and light woodland. They are darker than the Eurasian Hoopoe. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops) winters from East to West Africa depending on the breeding range. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Green (Red-billed) Wood-Hoopoe (Phoeniculus pupureus marwitzi) is found in a variety of wooded areas up to 2.800 m in Kenya and Uganda.

Black-billed Wood-Hoopoe (Phoeniculus s. somaliensis) is found in NE Kenya and W Somalia.

Grant’s Wood-Hoopoe (Phoeniculus granti). They are often associated with Doum Palms. Taken at Samburu National Reserve. It is endemic to dry Kenya (mainly) areas and S Ethiopia and Northern Tanzania.

White-headed Wood-Hoopoe (Phoeniculus bollei jacksoni) is widespread in forests from 900 to 3.000 m – endemic in East Africa. Photo Per Holmen, Mount Kenya

Abyssinian Scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus minor cabanisi) is a rather small and endemic to NE Africa in arid and semi-arid scrub and woodland below 1.400 m. The nominate form is found in NE Kenya and has a white wing bar.

Common Scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus cyanomelas schalowi) widespread in dry savanna and broad-leafed woodland. Photo Per Holmen

Southern Ground-Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) live in small families from East to Southern Africa in open savanna. They are endangered. Video

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill or Northern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus) live in small families in dry savanna from Uganda to West Africa. Photos Marina Meger, left male, right Per Holmen, female, Uganda

Eastern (Northern) Yellow-billed Hornbill (Tockus flavirostris) is a rather big but uncommon Hornbill in dry savanna especially with Baobab trees and Commiphora. Photos from Tsavo West and Samburu. Endemic in NE Africa.

Northern Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus) is common in pairs in savanna and semi arid woodland from NE Africa and further West. Video

Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus ruahae) is endemic to Central Tanzania where it is found in Savanna and Acacia woodland. Photo on the right

Von der Decken’s Hornbill (Tockus deckeni) is endemic – Southern Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, NE Uganda and Tanzania in open savanna and thorn bush. Females and young have a black bill.

Jackson’s Hornbill (Tockus jacksoni) has a small distribution range. NW Kenya and NE Uganda. The most Southern range and the best place to see it is at Lake Baringo.

Crowned Hornbill (Lophoceros alboterminatus) occurs in forested areas from East to Central to Southern Africa.

Hemprich’s Hornbill (Lophoceros hemprichi) is a not common hornbill endemic to Lake Baringo and further North to Ethiopia and Eritrea. They depend on rocks and cliffs for nesting. Photos Per Holmen & Elvira Wolfer

African Grey Hornbill (Lophoceros nasutus epirhinus) is common in Acacia woodland from SE Kenya to N South Africa. The more Northern subspecies nasutus has a smaller casque. The female has the tip on the bill.

Pale-billed Hornbill (Lophoceros pallidrostris) uncommon in Miombo Forest from Tanzania to Angola. Photo Per Holmen

African Pied Hornbill (Lophoceros fasciatus) is a West African species but can be found in Uganda in Semliki National Park in forests. Photo Per Holmen

Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill (Lophoceros camurus) is endemic in and around Semliki National Park. Photo Per Holmen

Eastern Piping Hornbill (Bycanistes sharpii) is a more West African forest species. In Uganda you can find it in Semliki and Budongo National Parks. Photo Per Holmen

Trumpeter Hornbill (Bycanistes bucinator) is found in lowland, riverine and coastal forests from East to Central to Southern Africa. Photo Per Holmen

Silvery-cheeked Hornbill (Bycanistes brevis) occurs from the horn of Africa to Mozambique in forests from coastal to 2.600 m.

Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill (Bycanistes subcylindricus subquadratus) lives in forests in Western Kenya, Burundi and Angola. Photos Lorenzo Barelli & Per Holmen

Eastern Dwarf / Little Hornbill (Horizocerus granti) is a very small hornbill found in Semliki National Park.

Eastern Long-tailed Hornbill (Horizocerus cassini) is found in Nigeria, Congo basin, Western Uganda (Semliki NP) and Angola.