Dig Deeper

Overview Taxonomy


“Where I live”

Von der Decken hornbills are found across eastern Africa from central and eastern Tanzania, throughout Kenya, and into southeastern Ethiopia and Somalia. They favor the open bush and scrubby woodlands of dry savanna and arid steppe.

At the Zoo, Von der Deckens can be seen in the African Aviary along the Safari Boardwalk.

“How I live there”

Von der Deckens are active during the day, foraging for food on the ground and “dropping down” on prey from perches above. They feed mainly on insects, including grasshoppers, locusts, beetles and their larvae, termites, and ants. They will also go after snails, mice, nestling birds, lizards, and tree frogs, and forage for berries and seeds.

On the savannahs of east Africa, Von der Deckens have established a mutually beneficial relationship with the dwarf mongoose, Africa’s smallest carnivore. The tiny mammals flush out insects for the hornbills to eat while the hornbills warn of approaching predators, allowing the mongooses to focus more intently on feeding.

“Making my mark”

Within their ecosystem, Von der Deckens help keep insect populations in check and help spread seeds through their droppings.

Male and female Von der Deckens can be told apart by their bills. Males have very distinctive red (or orange) and ivory two-tone bills while females have all-black bills.

Raising Young

Von der Deckens nest in tree cavities. When a female is ready to lay eggs, she and her mate seal her into the nest cavity. They partially close up the entrance of the nest with a mixture of mud, droppings, and food items such as fruit pulp until the female can barely fit through to enter the nest. Once on 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. For the next two months, the male provides her – and the chicks once they hatch – with all of her meals. She will lay 2-4 eggs, incubate them, and then care for the chicks once they hatch. After about 3 weeks with her chicks, the female breaks out of the nest cavity and seals it back up, leaving the chicks inside. She and her mate continue to feed their offspring for another 3 weeks or so until they are large enough and strong enough to break out as well.

“What eats me”

A variety of animals can seize Von der Decken eggs or nestlings. Large birds of prey may take adult Von der Deckens.


Von der Deckens are common across their vast range and are considered stable at this time. The world’s leading conservation organization, the IUCN, designates them as a species of “least concern.”


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Bucerotiformes
  • Family: Bucerotidae
  • Genera: Tockus
  • Species: deckeni