Flying free!

By Dave Dalziel

Two quintessential bird species of Zimbabwe`s diverse habitats are the Southern Ground Hornbill which can be frequently seen walking about on the ground foraging in our National Parks and the Saddle-billed Stork, always a spectacular bird to see along the shores of many of our dams.

The Southern Ground Hornbill is widespread in its distribution but only at a low density. They occur from Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) through to South Africa.

In Zimbabwe, the largest numbers occur in the major river systems and in the south-east Lowveld with Mana Pools having one of the highest densities of Southern Ground Hornbill in the world.

They have an interesting breeding strategy in that a group will have a dominant breeding pair and the rest of the group will help raise the chick. The Southern Ground Hornbill lays 1 – 3 eggs but starts sitting as soon as the first egg is laid. This means that the chicks hatch a few days apart. The younger chick or chicks are unable to compete for food and usually soon die. In other countries one of the initiatives to boost Southern Ground Hornbill numbers is to take the younger chicks and raise them in captivity. These birds will be kept in a group and be released into the wild in due course. They do not breed every year and a large proportion of chicks do not reach adulthood so it takes a long time for a population to grow. Once they have become adults they can probably live for over thirty years.

Southern Ground Hornbills are listed as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List and threats include habitat alteration through intensive farming or large human populations. They are susceptible to poisoning while foraging so the use of pesticides can have serious consequences for the birds in farming areas. There is some direct persecution because they can be a problem when they break windows, probably, when they see their reflection. They are generally well regarded by Zimbabwean people but in some of their range they are sometimes killed for traditional remedies.

The Saddle-billed Stork, on the otherhand, is widespread in Africa, ranging from Senegal to Somalia and south to eastern South Africa.

They are a monogamous species and may pair for life. They are territorial, particularly during the breeding season, with pairs staying in an area for many years. Immature birds can move long distances after becoming independent.

Saddle-billed Storks can layup to four eggs. The eggs take four to five weeks to hatch and the nestling period can be up to three months. Like a lot of larger birds, they do not breed every year.

The construction of large dams in Zimbabwe has probably benefitted Saddle-billed Stork and they can often be found on Lake Kariba. Unfortunately reports of birds caught in fishing net or having net wrapped around their bills is becoming more frequent. Many fishing nets are discarded when they are too torn to be useful and are left in dams or on the shore. Larger birds like African Fish Eagles and Saddle-billed Storks are often able to fly with quite big pieces of net attached to them. They then land in trees and the net gets tangled on the branches. Again, these larger birds are often able to break free but the net is now perfectly placed to catch small birds, such as Barbets and Orioles and Bulbuls.- © NZiRA Travel Zimbabwe Issue 15

BirdLife Zimbabwe (BLZ) is a locally-based registered, not-for-profit Nature Conservation Organisation promoting the survival of birds and biodiversity in Zimbabwe for both their intrinsic value and for the enjoyment of future generations. This is achieved through programs to raise awareness of the need to protect the natural ecosystems inhabited by Zimbabwe`s birds and wildlife which we, humans are an intrinsic part of, through policy, advocacy, education, research and training. As such, we would be very interested to hear of any sightings of either of these species. The sort of information needed includes locality and numbers. Information like age, sex and activity are very useful. For more info email:

For further information on birding hotspots around Zimbabwe check out the Birding Zimbabwe tab on

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