Habitat destruction and persecution are estimated to have caused very rapid population declines in South Africa and there are anecdotal reports that they have caused declines in other range countries. There is a high probability that such threats and subsequent declines will continue into the future, and as such this qualifies as Vulnerable. Should more accurate trend data become available further reassessment may be required in the future.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Distribution and populationBucorvus leadbeateri
Bucorvus cafer BirdLife International (1994, 2000, 2004, 2008), Bucorvus leadbeateri Sibley and Monroe (1990, 1993)
is found in southern Africa, ranging from southern Kenya
, south-west to Angola
and northern Namibia
, and south to Botswana
and eastern South Africa
. It is described as widespread and fairly common, and the population in South Africa in 1992 has been estimated at c.1,400 mature individuals - perhaps a 50% decline on historical population numbers (Kemp and Webster in litt.
2008). Although data for other range countries is lacking, several threats are also thought to be causing population declines in Kenya (S. Thomsett in litt.
2010), Botswana (S. Tyler in litt.
2010) and Zambia (R. Tether, P. Leonard and L. Roxburgh in litt.
2010), though rates of decline in Zambia are thought to be slower than elsewhere (L. Roxburgh in litt.
2010). In Botswana it is still frequent in the Okavango Delta and Chobe areas, where it occurs at higher densities than it averages in South Africa, but is likely to be declining away from protected areas (S. Tyler in litt.
The global population size has not been quantified, but the species is reported to be widespread and common but sparse.Trend justification
An assessment of the species's status in South Africa (Kemp and Webster in litt.
2008) estimated a 20% loss in the area of suitable habitat within the species's national range in the past 15 years. If this figure is used to project declines into the future, this equates to a population decline of 74% over 94 years (three generations). Although declines are also suspected in other range countries (S. Thomsett and S. Tyler in litt.
2010), there are not thought to be significant declines in Zambia, which may be a stronghold of the species (P. Leonard and
L. Roxburgh in litt.
2010). As such, and given that data is lacking and that it is difficult to accurately project future declines for such a long-lived species, a decline of 30-49% is projected over 94 years (three generations). EcologyBehaviour
It lives in groups of 2-8 members, rarely 11, and is a co-operative breeder, with the dominant pair assisted by adult and immature helpers to defend a territory. Laying occurs in large cavities in trees or cliffs, mainly from September to December, with a clutch of 1-3 (usually 2) eggs, although only one survives to fledging (del Hoyo et al.
2001; Kemp and Webster in litt.
2008). One study in South Africa showed that a family group produced on average only one fledgling every nine years, although birds in the Okavango Delta appear to breed more frequently (del Hoyo et al.
2001; S. Tyler in litt.
It inhabits woodland and savanna, also frequenting grassland adjoining patches of forest up to 3,000 m in parts of its range in eastern Africa. Diet
Its diet is mainly made up of arthropods, and, especially during the dry season, snails, frogs and toads, and sometimes larger prey such as snakes, lizards, rats, hares, squirrels or tortoises. It will on occasion feed on carrion, taking scraps and associated insects. Fruits and seeds are also recorded in its diet (del Hoyo et al.
A major threat to the species is loss of nesting habitat due to clearance for small-scale use, agriculture, and because of fires, and perhaps because of the actions of African elephants Loxodonta africana
in Botswana and South Africa (del Hoyo et al.
2001; S. Thomsett,
S. Tyler, R. Tether, P. Leonard and L. Roxburgh in litt.
2010; K. Morrison and Y. Friedmann in litt.
2005). Widespread livestock grazing has also lead to the erosion of suitable grassland in Kenya, with perhaps only 10% of suitable habitat remaining in the country (S. Thomsett in litt.
. Although cultural beliefs offered some protection in the past in Kenya, recent generations tend not to hold such values, and the species may be directly persecuted as a result (S. Thomsett in litt.
. Persecution also occurs directly as the species breaks window panes by attacking its own reflection in glass, indirectly by consuming poisoned bait, and it is sometimes killed as a supersitious token measure against drought (del Hoyo et al.
2001; K. Morrison and Y. Friedmann in litt.
. Collisions with powerlines may also be a threat in South Africa (K. Morrison and Y. Friedmann in litt.
. Such threats are exacerbated by the slow reproductive rate and maturation, longevity and social structure of the species (S. Thomsett in litt.
. Conservation Actions Underway
It may still be protected by tribal lore in many areas, and occurs in several reserves and at least seven national parks (del Hoyo et al.
2001). There is extensive conservation work being carried out in South Africa, including a re-introduction programme, research into several different areas (population dynamics, tracking, and the feasibility of supplementary feeding, multiple clutching, group supplementation and artificial nest-site provision), and public awareness campaigns (A. Turner in litt.
2009). From 2000-2008 the Mabula Project attempted 13 soft and hard releases and re- introductions of individuals, and a re-introduced female fledged a chick in 2008 in the Mabula Game Reserve (A. Turner in litt.
2009, 2011). Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct population surveys and establish monitoring to assess population trends. Begin awareness campaigns to prevent persecution. Identify key strongholds of the species and prevent further habitat degradation in these areas. Continue to research the effectiveness of artificial nest-sites.
del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. 2001. Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 6: Mousebirds to Hornbills. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species
Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J., Symes, A.
Leonard, P., Roxburgh, L., Tether, R., Thomsett, S., Turner, A., Tyler, S.
IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Bucorvus leadbeateri. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 29/11/2014.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 29/11/2014.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000)
Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004)
Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife
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