Video: The Flight Of The Hornbill – Baby Bird Leaves The Nest

Amongst the big cats, wild dogs, and dagha-boys are the smaller details of safari that you can count yourself lucky to see. Made famous by the character Zazu in the Lion King, hornbills are some of the most frequently seen birds in the Kruger Park, but their fascinating breeding behaviour is something to be impressed by! In this rare footage, watch as a baby hornbill fledges its nest after a period of time sealed up in the hole of a tree. Even more intriguingly, both red and yellow-billed hornbills are on the scene at this nest at Africa on Foot camp…

Red-billed, yellow-billed, and grey hornbills are seasonal monogamous pairs that spend a dedicated amount of time in courtship displays and tests of trust. The male will bring his female copious amounts of insects, berries, small rodents, or lizards to prove his worthiness as a mate. Once a pair has ‘married’, the female crawls into a carefully selected hole in a carefully selected tree, and is sealed inside by her mate using mud and dung.


Yellow-billed hornbill. Image by Em Gatland.


Red-billed hornbill. Image by Em Gatland.


Grey hornbill.


A Bradfield’s hornbill in flight in the Savute, Botswana. Image by Kevin MacLaughlin.

A small slit is left open, through which the male passes food to his female, while she begins to moult her feathers to line her nest. The male will continue to bring tasty treats to his contained mate while she lays and incubates her eggs. Once the chicks hatch, the female gets broken out of the nest (with a new set of feathers) and together she and her mate reseal the opening to contain the chicks while they continue to develop.

Eventually the chicks break out of the nest and fly free, joining their parents and living as a family for the first 3 weeks of their lives outside the nest. After this period, the young hornbills become independent and live on to find their own mate and begin the search for their own specially-qualified tree-hole.


Yellow-billed hornbill outside the nest at Africa on Foot.