Northern Ground-hornbill Bucorvus abyssinicus


Justification of Red List Category
This species is tentatively suspected to be declining rapidly as a result of habitat loss and degradation, and intentional hunting; similar to its close relative Bucorvus leadbeateri. As such it is listed here as Vulnerable.

Population justification
The global population size has not been quantified, but the species is reported to be widespread and common but sparse (del Hoyo et al. 2001).

Trend justification
Accurate quantification of the rate of decline in this species is very difficult due to the lack of research in the region. In many range states the species has disappeared from areas outside of protected areas, and habitat degradation continues even within some protected areas (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2016). Hunting may also impact the species in some places, though in other areas it could be protected as a totem bird (Kemp and Boesman 2017). Taking into account how this species has disappeared from large areas, and how relatively similar threats are impacting its sister species B. leadbeateri, it is very tentatively suspected that declines may fall in the range 30-49% over three generations, although further research is urgently required to get a better estimate of population trends.

Distribution and population

Bucorvus abyssinicus occurs in a band across the Afrotropics from Senegal, Gambia (where it may have all but disappeared from the Western Region; C. Barlow in litt. 2017) and southern Mauritania through West Africa and across to northern Kenya, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and north-west Somalia (see Kemp and Boesman 2017). It is becoming increasingly restricted to protected areas (e.g. in Togo, Benin, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda; F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2016, R. Skeen in litt. 2017, P. Hall in litt. 2017, J. Brouwer in litt. 2017 - see West African DataBase), and may be disappearing from these areas too (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2016); although it may still be doing well in some countries (e.g. Chad; L. Lamprecht in litt. 2017, P. D. de Rau in litt. 2017).


This species's biology has not been extensively studied (L. Kemp in litt. 2018) but it is predominantly found in savannah and sub-desert shrubland, as well as possibly occurring in rocky areas, riparian habitats and woodland (Borrow and Demey 2014, Dowsett-Lemaire and Dowsett 2014, Kemp and Boesman 2017). It feeds on a range of invertebrates and small vertebrates (Kemp and Boesman 2017).


Habitat loss may be having a significant impact on this species, with the species now potentially being mainly restricted to protected areas. In Togo it may also have disappeared from most faunal reserves as a result of illegal habitat clearance for farming, logging etc., and may only persist in Fazao-Malfakassa National Park - although this site is now also under threat from a planned road development (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2016). Forest reserves in Benin are also being invaded by farmers, which could threaten populations of the species in this country too (F. Dowsett-Lemaire in litt. 2016). Urban development may also be impacting this species, e.g. in Gambia (C. Barlow in litt. 2018). It is not only threatened by habitat conversion, as in certain areas hunters may kill individuals and use their stuffed heads as disguises while stalking game, although it is treated as a totem species in some areas and so may be relatively protected in such places as a result of this (Kemp 1995, Kemp and Boesman 2017).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
No targeted actions are known for this species, but it is becoming increasingly restricted to protected areas.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Research is urgently needed to better understand the species's biology, as well to collate a better idea of the overall population size and trends (L. Kemp in litt. 2018). Where possible, protect further areas of suitable habitat, as the species is becoming increasingly reliant on such areas. Raise awareness of this species to try to reduce the impact of hunting.


Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Westrip, J., Ekstrom, J.

Dowsett-Lemaire, F., du Rau, P., Brouwer, J., Skeen, R., Barlow, C., Wacher, T., Hall, P., Liedén, U., Kemp, L., Lamprecht, L.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Bucorvus abyssinicus. Downloaded from on 08/12/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 08/12/2021.