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Climate change victim: Kalahari bird

  • Published
    14th Jun, 2022

The southern yellow-billed hornbill has not been able to breed properly and its numbers have declined subsequently.

  • Climate change has been wreaking havoc on a number of species for quite some time now. Some have even gone extinct.
  • It is now threatening a resident of the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa: The southern yellow-billed hornbill (Tockus leucomelas).
  • A recent study has found that an increase in temperatures could see the hornbill disappear from parts of the Kalahari by 2027.

Key finding:

  • In the Kalahari, air temperatures have already risen more than 2°C in a few decades. At this rate, by 2027, these birds will not breed at all at this site.
  • Above a daily maximum temperature of 35.7 degrees Celsius (96.3 Fahrenheit), there were no successful breeding attempts among the hornbills.
  • Comparing the first three seasons (2008-2011) of monitoring to the last three (2016-2019), the mean percentage of nest boxes occupied declined from 52% to 12%.
  • Nest success, a breeding attempt successfully raising at least one chick fell from 58% to 17%.
  • Fledglings produced per breeding attempt declined from 1.1 to 0.4.


  • The bird is best known for its unusual breeding and nesting habits where the female seals herself in a cavity and stays there for about 50 days to brood and care for chicks. 
  • They feed on insects, spiders, and scorpions as well as seeds that they find on the ground. 
  • In appearance, the southern yellow-billed hornbill looks a lot like its sister species, the red-billed hornbill, Tockus erythrorhynchus.


  • Continents: Africa
  • Countries: South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe
  • Regions: Eswatini
  • Biogeographical realms: Afrotropical

Kalahari Desert:

  • The Kalahari Desert is a large semi-arid sandy savannah in Southern Africa which covers much of Botswana, and parts of Namibia and South Africa.
  • The Kalahari Desert is a featureless, gently undulating, sand-covered plain.
  • Bedrock is exposed only in the low but vertical-walled hills, called kopjes that rarely but conspicuously rise above the general surface.
  • People: The Kalahari Desert is inhabited primarily by Bantu speakers and Khoisan-speaking San, with a small number of Europeans.
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