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African Grey Hornbill

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Is the African Grey Hornbill right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: N/A

Scientific name: Lophoceros nasutus

The basics:
The African Grey Hornbill is an extremely widespread and personable wild bird in its native Africa, but it's a very rare species in captivity, at least in the United States. It may have been the second most common Tockus species bred in the late 20th century, surpassed only by the Red-billed Hornbill, but it seems to have passed from popularity. You may find it difficult to locate an individual pet, and most birds should probably be held by experienced breeders working to preserve it in aviculture. It may have been neglected by breeders because it is one of the more quietly patterned hornbills.

Two subspecies are found over a very wide area of Africa south of the Sahara desert. A portion of their range even extends into the Middle East. There is also a bird called the Indian Grey Hornbill or the Common Grey Hornbill, which is not usually even considered to be the same genus, let alone the same species. Make sure when you're learning about your bird that you do not confuse the rather insectivorous African species with the frugivorous Indian bird. The name of the genus was recently changed, and you can find a lot of older avicultural experiences about this hornbill under the old scienific name Tockus nasutus.

Appearance:
The African Grey Hornbill is a mostly grayish bird with a bold white stripe on its black head. The male's bill is mostly black, while the female's bill has a reddish tip; in both cases, the casque is so tiny that it's easy to overlook it altogether.

Weight:
160 - 250 grams (6 - 9 oz.)

Average size:
45 centimeters (18 in.)

Lifespan:
20 years

Behavior/temperament:
If the African Grey Hornbill is hand-fed or handled by humans from a very early age, the bird can make a very endearing pet that will try to follow you around for treats and attention. Do not neglect these pair bond birds. In the wild, they are extremely devoted to each other, and in captivity, the a carefully tamed bird will transfer its affections to you. These days, you might have some difficulty finding one of these pets in the first place. If you are lucky enough to obtain one, treat it as the special treasure that it is.

Like the other Lophoceros hornbills, this species has a strong pair-bond. The female will seal herself into the nestlog while incubating the eggs and starting the young birds, knowing that she can rely on her devoted mate to bring a steady supply of food.

Housing:
The African Grey Hornbill is an arboreal species, and it will feel most comfortable if it has some high perches as well as low ones. Like all hornbills, they demand a spacious aviary, preferably well equipped and well planted. Don't house them with any other species unless you are highly experienced with creating mixed-species exhibits, as they are both territorial and decidedly carnivorous. A bird that couldn't get away might become a meal.

If you have paired your birds, get advice from more experienced breeders about the proper size and placement of the nestlog. As a tropical species, African Grey Hornbills need to be protected from the cold and damp, but they will appreciate the ability to get some sunlight.

Diet:
The bold African Grey Hornbill can take fruit like many of its relatives, but it is reported to have a huge appetite for large insects in the wild, including such items as beetles an grasshoppers, and they won't pass up larger treats like tree frogs or lizards. Similar to Cattle Egrets, who follow cows or mowing machines to pick up the disturbed insects, the African Grey Hornbill may also follow larger animals in hopes of making some easy catches. Because of this insectivorous and high protein diet, it's going to be a bit more challenging to feed than many Lophoceros hornbills.

One suggested diet includes low iron softbill pellets, a chopped fruit salad, mealworms, crickets, and (possibly) pinkie mice. To increase the variety of insects available, it's probably a good idea to construct a live insect trap. The chopped fruit salad should contain a generous mix of fruits that are high in water – such as apple, kiwi, cherry, grapes, berries – and fruits that are rich in nutrients, such as soaked raisins. Chopped banana, papaya, and passionfruit are also a good addition to the diet.

Written by Elaine Radford