You needn’t be a serious birder to recognise the yodelling yelp of this striking raptor. Often described as the sound of Africa, the sound evokes lazy rivers and palm-fringed lakeshores, often in duet with the grunting of hippos. And the bird itself, in its black, white and chestnut finery, is equally unmistakable.
As big and black as turkeys, wielding bills like hatchets, these charismatic birds cut an unmistakable dash as they strut around the bush in small family parties. There are two similar species: the southern ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) is much the more widespread and better known; the Abyssinian ground hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus) occurs only north of the Equator.
This is one of Africa’s weirdest birds, strutting about the savannah with the head of an eagle and the legs of a stork. In reality it is a bird of prey, with a family all to itself, and its snake-killing prowess is the stuff of legend.