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Hornbills: Masters of lockdown

Yellow-billed hornbill. Photo: Faansie Peacock
Yellow-billed hornbill. Photo: Faansie Peacock

Remember those first few weeks after President Ramaphosa announced the lockdown? 

The hushed, fearful quiet that descended over the world? How foreign it all felt the first time you braved an outing to the grocery store? And how entombed you felt in the confines of your house? For hornbills, those iconic and comical citizens of the savannah, lockdown is nothing new.

For them, it’s an annual chapter in their lives, and something they’ve perfected to a fine art. Phase one involves selecting the perfect nest site. For most hornbill species, this is a natural tree cavity, although the desert-dwelling Monteiro’s hornbill usually breeds in cliffs or among piled rocks. Yellow-billed hornbills might use a cavity as low as 75 cm above the ground, or as high as 12 m, and for some reason they often choose spots that face north-east. Most nest sites also have an escape hole above the main entrance.

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