Red-billed oxpeckers are not common within the southern African region, being limited in range to the north-east and being more common within game reserves than within farmlands. Outside the region they are found as far north as Ethiopia and the Sudan. They are medium sized birds, with a length of approximately 20 cm and are generally classified together with the starlings.
Male and female Red-billed oxpeckers are alike in both size and plumage colouration, with dark brown upper parts and throat, and pale buffy under parts. The bill is red; the eyes red with a bright yellow eye ring; legs and feet are black. Their strong feet and short legs are adapted to clinging to the hide of the large mammals on which they feed.
Although Red-billed oxpeckers feed occasionally by hawking insects, the majority of their food is collected on their hosts. Adults may eat up to 100 ticks per day and they also feed on blood from wounds, on mucus and even on ear wax.
The call of the Red-billed oxpecker is a succession of whistling notes. They are monogamous birds, nesting in a hole in a tree which they line with hair collected from their hosts, or with fine grass. The female lays a clutch of two to five creamy-white eggs that hatch after an incubation period of approximately thirteen days.
The scientific binomial for the Red-billed oxpecker is Buphagus erythrorhynchus. Buphagus from the Latin for “ox-eating”, and erythrorhynchus from the Greek for “red-bill”. Thus the name describes a bird with a red-bill that feeds on oxen, which is about as accurate as a name can be.