Mystery Bird: Von der Decken's Hornbill, Tockus deckeni

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[Mystery bird] Male Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Tockus deckeni, endemic to savanna and woodland of sub-Saharan Africa. Photographed in the African Bird Safari at London Zoo. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: GrrlScientist, 2 September 2008 [larger view].

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
What a crazy-looking bird this one is! With that huge bill and long tail, it can only be a hornbill, a group of Old World tropical birds related, if not terribly closely, to the kingfishers. There are about sixty species; many species of hornbill are known for the immurement of the incubating and brooding females. The red bill and starkly black-and-white plumage point us towards the genus Tockus (what a fine name!); the plain wing coverts rule out Red-billed and Jackson’s Hornbills, leaving us with Von der Decken’s Hornbill, a widespread and common species of southern Africa (and well represented in zoos, where this individual was photographed).
Von der Decken, by the way, is best known not for his hornbill but for his abortive ascents of Kilimanjaro in the 1860s — rumored to be the first such attempts ever by a European.
Review all mystery birds to date.


About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Von der Decken's Hornbill, Tockus deckeni

  1. Greg Laden says:

    It’s a hornbill. Not sure what kind yet, but it is an African or Asian bird.

  2. JohnB says:

    The two-tone red and ivory bill with black tip: male Von Der Decken’s Hornbill.

  3. Yeah, male Von Der Decken’s Hornbill, based on the head pattern and the bill. I recognized it as a hornbill thanks to a misspent youth watching wildlife documentaries, and from there it was a short step to googling for “hornbill” and paging through images.

  4. Greg Laden says:

    Sorry, forgot to mention the feature. The big horny bill, head shape, overall body shape, tail. Basically, it looks like every other hornbill I’ve ever seen and I’ve lived among the hornbills. (Though it took a long time for them to really accept me)

  5. Hai~Ren says:

    Ha, I knew it was a hornbill of the Tockus genus, but didn’t know the exact species. I’m more familiar with the Asian species in any case.
    Now, if only you had photos of some Southeast Asian birds, then I could play this game… =)

  6. Bob O'H says:

    I can’t remember if there were any Southeast Asian birds at the zoo.

  7. The Ridger says:

    I have no idea, but what an astonishing face.

  8. The above bird in a Von Der Decken (Tockus deckeni) not (Tockus erythrorhynchus)also know as the red bill. The red billed hornbill has a lot more slender bill completely red bill and also has spots on the wing were the Vonder Decken has a 2 tone (Ivory and red bill) with solid black wings. The jackson hornbill (Tockus jacksoni) with very simular to the Von Der Deckin except to has the spots in the wing like the red billed hornbill.Also the Von Der Deckens and Jackson hornbills are sexually Dimorphic. The Females have a complete black bill while i believe the redbill hornbills both male and female have the slender bed bills. I will be uploading photos to my website in the future but here are pictures of my pair.