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Bird in the Spotlight: West African Pied Hornbill

16 February, 2024

West African Pied Hornbill. Photo by Francesco Veronesi.

The West African Pied Hornbill (Lophoceros semifasciatus) is a glossy black-and-white hornbill of West Africa’s lowland forests. Ranging from Senegal in the west to the Niger River in the east, this species can be found in habitats ranging from tropical evergreen forests to riparian gallery forests to heavily altered habitats, such as village gardens and cacao (Theobroma cacao) plantations. Like other hornbills (Bucerotidae), the West African Pied Hornbill displays a bony casque along the upper edge of its bill, and this structure is larger in males. The West African Pied Hornbill was formerly considered conspecific with the Congo Pied Hornbill (L. fasciatus), but the two lineages were recently recognized as distinct species due to morphological differences. West African Pied Hornbills forage primarily in or above the canopy, and their diet consists of insects plucked from the air and a variety of fruits. They are opportunistic and will also eat small lizards, frogs, bats, emerging termites and ants, and the nestlings of smaller birds. Due to their frugivorous nature and wide-ranging habits, West African Pied Hornbills are key dispersers of seeds for many fruiting tree species. Hornbills have a unique strategy for nesting that involves finding a suitable tree cavity where the female seals herself in with mud and droppings. The male then diligently brings food to his mate while she incubates the eggs safe from predators. Most West African Pied Hornbill nests occur in primary forests in large trees, in both natural and woodpecker-excavated cavities. This species is currently common and highly adaptable, but it is still threatened by the same factors that impact other hornbills. Hunting, illegal trade, and loss of primary forests for nesting all pose threats to this charismatic species of West African forests and woodlands.

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