Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Species Spotlight: The Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

It has been a busy summer at the Park and we are glad to see fall arrive. If you haven't been to visit us in a while, now is the perfect time. The cooler weather makes your visit more pleasant, and the birds seem to be enjoying it, as well.

One of our newest birds on exhibit is the Abyssinian ground hornbill (Bucorvus abyssinicus). A native of African grassland and savanna habitats, this bird is an omnivorous ground dweller that eats mostly rodents, frogs, and snakes, as well as insects, seeds, and fruits. The hornbill's long beak even allows it to catch and eat venomous snakes, while keeping the bird's body safely out of harm's way. And the long featherless legs help it to move quickly and easily through the grassy environment.

One of the things visitors notice first about our female Abyssinian is her incredibly long eyelashes. Unlike ours, these lashes are not hairs but actually modified feathers that serve the same purpose and protect the eyes from sand and dirt.

That crazy looking thing on top of her beak is not really broken. It is called a casque, and is made of keratin. It is believed to help amplify their vocalizations so that other hornbills who are farther away can hear them. You may have noticed a similar casque on our silvery-cheeked hornbill.

Our bird can easily be identified as a female by her blue wattle, or throat pouch. Males puff theirs out during courtship, but they are different from the females' in that their wattles also have a bright red color surrounding the blue.

Her exhibit is located between the African aviary and the spur-winged geese exhibit. Next time you are at the park, be sure to stop and say hello!

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