Von der Decken Hornbill

Von der Decken's Hornbill


Von der Decken’s hornbill is found across eastern Africa from central and eastern Tanzania, throughout Kenya, and into southeastern Ethiopia and Somalia.


It favors the open bush and scrubby woodlands of the dry savanna and arid steppe.


The Von der Decken’s hornbill is a medium-sized bird with a large, thick, slightly down curved bill. Its head is mostly white with black patches on the cap and around the eyes. The hornbill’s underside is white and its body is black. It has black wings and a long and rectangular-shaped black tail. The male has a very distinctive red and ivory two-tone bill. The female has an entirely black bill. Females are smaller and lighter than the males.

Neither the male nor the female have a casque on their bill, as do some other species of hornbill. A casque is a hollow outgrowth of the top of the mandible of the bill made of keratin.

The long bill of this bird allows it to forage and collect food items from branches they could not reach otherwise. n most hornbill species, the casque is a hollow or spongy structure made out of keratin. It is believed that this structure acts as a vibrating chamber to make the hornbill's voice louder. Their short, broad, and rounded wings are efficient for short intervals of flight but not ideal for extended periods. They will mostly look for food (forage) on the ground, but will sometimes look for fruits high in trees, and can be seen foraging in pairs or small groups.

Von der Decken's Hornbill

Hornbills are diurnal birds, often roosting at regular sites in the outer branches of trees, or right against their trunks. At first light they often spend time preening and calling. The Von der Decken’s hornbill vocalizes using loud monotone calls.

They are usually found in pairs feeding on the ground. Outside of the breeding season they often form flocks. Other behaviors they participate in are sunbathing, bathing in the rain, toying with sticks, tossing leaves or debris, bill wrestling, or jumping on or over each other.

Von der Decken’s hornbills play an important role in the ecosystem by helping to keep insect populations stable. They also help spread the seeds of fruit in their droppings.


Von der Decken’s hornbills are believed to breed as monogamous pairs (having only one mate at a time).They nest in tree cavities. The pair works together to partially close up the entrance of the cavity with a mixture of mud, droppings, and food items such as fruit pulp until the female can barely fit through to enter the nest. The male continues to seal her in, and she also assists from the inside using food and feces until only a narrow opening remains.

The male is then completely responsible for feeding his mate and the upcoming chicks for the next few months. Females usually lay two eggs, but can lay as many as four per clutch. The eggs are incubated for about 46 days. Each chick hatches about a day apart.

During incubation, the female completely molts (sheds) her flight feathers and is unable to fly. To prevent poor sanitation, the female cleans out the nest periodically to remove feces.

After about two to three months, the female and the chicks have grown too large for the nest and the female breaks out. She then rebuilds the seal and assists the male with feeding for the next two weeks until the chicks emerge. Chicks will emerge after about 50 days old.

Interesting Facts:

  • Hornbills are the only birds in which the first and second neck vertebrae (the atlas and axis) are fused together. This is thought to provide a more stable platform for supporting the heavy bill.
  • The long bill allows them to forage and collect food items from branches they could not reach otherwise.
  • Their short, broad, and rounded wings are efficient for short intervals of flight but not ideal for extended periods.
  • The Von der Decken’s hornbill was named after the German explorer Baron Karl von der Decken (1833-1865).
  • Hornbills only have a two-lobed kidney, while all other birds have a three-lobed kidney.

About Our Animals:

The Zoo is currently home to two female Von der Decken’s hornbills.


There are not currently any specific conservation efforts for Von der Decken’s hornbills, as this species’ population is considered stable. However, it is still advisable to keep hornbill habitat unfragmented, and to safeguard against poaching and the capture of wild birds for the illegal pet trade.

You can help by making environmentally responsible lifestyle decisions to help conserve habitat —conserve energy and resources, reduce litter and pollution. If you choose to have an exotic pet, make sure it comes from a reputable breeder and not from the wild. You can also support the conservation efforts of local organizations like Utah’s Hogle Zoo as well as other organizations working to protect wildlife and conserve habitat.

Did YOU Know?    
There are 54 species of hornbills in the world.
Von der Decken's Hornbill
Class: birds
Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Tockus
Genus: Tockus
Species: deckeni
Length: 15 inch wingspan
Height: 17-20 inches
Weight: 4-6 ounces
Average Lifespan: In the wild about 10 years; In a zoo up to 20 years
Wild Diet: Snails, mice, nestling birds, lizards, tree frogs, seeds, fruit, berries, and insects
Predators: Monkeys and snakes
USFWS Status: Not listed
CITES Status: Not listed
Where at the Zoo? Small Animal Building

Learn more about birds or animals from Africa!
Or, cross-reference the two!