Members of a Southern Ground Hornbill family group take on different roles in order to raise chicks. Family members also must cooperate to defend territory or risk young members being kidnapped by rival hornbill groups.
We often see Southern Ground Hornbills when we traverse their territory in Kruger National Park. We also hear their distinct calls during mating season in May.
Ground Hornbills are Cooperative Breeders with all members taking on responsibilities
Ground Hornbill groups typically consist of a single adult female, several adult males, and immature birds. Once the eggs are laid, the female has the sole responsibility of incubating them in the nest for around 40 days, during which time the rest of the group will bring her food from the outside world.
Studies have shown that the ages, sex, and rank determine the roles of each individual in the group. The contributions of the parent birds will depend on the number of helpers they have.
Juveniles are do not participate in territory patrols for fear they will be kidnapped by rival hornbill clans
Territory defense is vital to the survival of ground hornbills. Each group is dependent on its nesting site and food source and the birds must be ready to fend off any intruders. Patrolling and defending these territories ( up to 100 sq.KM) requires an immense amount of effort and energy. You would assume an important job such as this would be performed by all members, but younger individuals within groups do not take part in territorial defense.
It has been documented that rival hornbill clans will kidnap juveniles and raise them as their own.