Coraciiformes TAG

Coraciiformes Taxon Advisory Group -

Von der Decken's Hornbill (Tockus deckeni)
SSP Manager: Not a TAG Recommended Species

General Information

The Von der Decken's hornbill was named after the German explorer Baron Karl von der Decken (1833- 1865). The Von der Decken's hornbill and the dwarf mongoose of the East African savannah have a unique relationship. The mongooses disturb insects for the hornbills to eat, while the hornbills provide increased vigilance (alertness for predators) allowing these mammals more time to feed.


The Von der Decken's hornbill measures approximately 17-20 inches and has mainly white plumage on its body with black wings and a black tail. The male has a very distinctive red and ivory two-tone bill. The female has an entirely black bill. Neither the male nor the female have a casque on their bill, as do some other species of hornbill. A casque is a hollow outgrowth of the top of the mandible of the bill made of keratin. A long bill allows the Von der Decken's hornbill to forage and collect food items from branches they could not reach otherwise. Their short, broad, and rounded wings are efficient for short intervals of flight but not ideal for extended periods.


This species of hornbill is not currently threatened. However, it is still advisable to keep hornbill habitat unfragmented and to safeguard against poaching and the capture of wild birds for the illegal pet trade. IUCN status: Least Concern (3.1); CITES Appendix: not listed


Von der Decken's hornbill is found across eastern Africa from central and eastern Tanzania, throughout Kenya, and into southeastern Ethiopia and Somalia.


It favors the open bush and scrubby woodlands of the dry savanna and arid steppe.




They nest in tree cavities. The pair works together to partially close up the entrance with a mixture of mud, droppings, and food items such as fruit pulp until the female can barely fit through to enter the nest. The male continues to seal her in, and she also assists from the inside using food and feces until only a narrow opening remains. The male is then completely responsible for feeding his mate and the upcoming chicks for the next 2 months. Clutch size is usually 2-3 white eggs, incubated for about 46 days. Each chick hatches about a day apart. To prevent poor sanitation, the female cleans out the nest periodically to remove feces.

During incubation, the female completely molts (sheds) her flight feathers and is unable to fly. After about 3 months, the female and the chicks have grown too large for the nest and the female breaks out. She then rebuilds the seal and assists the male with feeding for the next 2 weeks until the chicks emerge.


The diet for Von der Decken's hornbills includes snails, mice, nestling birds, lizards, tree frogs, seeds, fruit, berries, and insects.