Bird of the Week – Week 126 – Yellow-billed oxpecker

Although grouped into the larger family that includes the Starlings and Mynas, oxpeckers are really rather different and have adapted well to their unusual feeding arrangements. They have strong feet with sharp claws and short legs for clinging on to the large ungulates on which they usually feed, and their bills are flattened to facilitate this feeding. Their tails are fairly long and stiff to assist in maintaining their often upright feeding positions.

Yellow-billed oxpecker

Yellow-billed oxpeckers are medium-sized birds, with a length of approximately 20 cm, and the sexes are alike in both size and plumage colouration. They have dark brown heads, throats, backs and tails, with lighter coloured under parts; eyes are red; legs and feet black; bills have a yellow base and a red tip.

Yellow-billed oxpecker

Yellow-billed oxpeckers are considered to be “Vulnerable” and their range has shrunk considerably in recent years. They prefer areas of open woodland and are restricted to those areas in which cattle and other ungulates are present. In the southern African region they are found in northern Namibia and Botswana, and in the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

They feed on ticks and blood and mucous which they garner from their hosts, but also sometimes on insects. In the Kruger Park we have seen them perched on antelope, giraffe, buffalo, hippo, and rhino, and they seem to be well tolerated by the majority of their hosts.

Yellow-billed oxpecker

Their call is a hissing “kruss, kruss”.

Yellow-billed oxpeckers are monogamous and usually nest in tree cavities which they line with grass or with hair plucked from the host animals. The female lays a clutch of two or three white eggs which hatch after an incubation period of approximately 13 days.

Yellow-billed oxpecker

The scientific binomial for the Yellow-billed oxpecker is Buphagus africanus; Buphagus from the Latin for “eater of oxen”; and africanus from the Latin for “from Africa”. Thus we have an African bird that feeds on oxen, which is a pretty good description really.

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