By Nick Theron, The Mabula Ground Hornbill Project
This season in the Limpopo has been an exceptional one where rain is concerned. The rain arrived on time for a change and has continued throughout the season with above average rainfall being experienced. It was thought that if the artificial nests were going to be used, the good rains would encourage groups to do so. Of the 28 artificial nests erected since June 2005 none were used though. The reason for this, at this stage, seems to be that groups are breeding and have natural nests in the area (After an extensive awareness campaign and with the support of farmers sightings have been collected, many of which include juveniles). These nests are extremely difficult to find because of the irrregularity with which groups are breeding.
Two wild nests monitored since December 2004 have only been used once each during this time period. Of the five natural nests monitored this year only one is active and the chick was about to fledge on the 25th February. See photo below. At this stage it seems that the groups that are reeding occur in an area that has a high density of large baobab trees that are large enough to house cavities suitable for Ground Hornbills. Groups also disapear as you move away from these high density baobab areas and this could be due to a lack of nesting sites. There is still therefore a need for artificial nests and nests that are not used in the future will be moved to more suitable areas.
Some nests have been erected in areas lacking large baobab trees but it may be a slow process for groups to move in and establish territories. In Kruger groups raise on average one chick to adulthood every nine years and this is an indication of the extremely low productivity of the species. Waiting for these birds to use the artificial nests may then only require patience. An intensive research program is also being planned in the area during 2008 and 2009 as part of a masters project that will hopefully be able to answer some of the questions raised after the last 4 years work in the area.
Learn more about the Horbill Nest Sponsorships and other conservation program partnerships at the Sacramento Zoo!