Redbilled oxpecker

Buphagus erythrorhynchus subfamily

Buphaginae taxonomy

Tanagra erythrorhyncha Stanley, 1814, Ethiopia. other common names

French: Piqueboeuf a bec rouge; German: RotschnabelMadenhacker; Spanish: Picabuey de Pico Rojo.

physical characteristics

7.5-8.7 in (19-22 cm); weight 1.5-2.1 oz (42-59 g). Olive-brown above, tan on rump and breast; red bill and eyes with conspicuous yellow flesh around the eyes. Juveniles have a dark bill and eyes and brown area around the eyes.


East and southeast Africa with a highly fragmented distribution from western Central African Republic, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia, south in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, eastern and southern Zaire to northern and eastern South Africa.


Open savanna areas in association with large mammals, including domestic livestock, up to about 9,000 ft (2,745 m).


Endemic resident. Intimately associated with large mammals and, in different areas, different hosts seem to be preferred; usual perch and site of feeding is on the head and neck.

feeding ecology and diet

Feeds primarily on ticks and biting flies plucked from host and on host blood and tissues. Apparently, the birds do not make wounds on the animals, but take blood from existing wounds.

reproductive biology

Cooperative breeders; courtship often takes place on the backs of host mammals. Breeding occurs at different times in different areas, often associated with beginning of rainy season, and has been reported in all months. Nest of grasses lined with hair and dung is in a natural tree cavity. Clutch size two to five creamy white eggs with brown to lilac speckles; incubation by both parents for 12-13 days; feeding of nestlings is done by parents and helpers; young fledge at about 30 days and are independent about a month later.

conservation status

Not threatened; dipping of livestock in pesticides to control pests seems to be associated with declines in oxpecker numbers in some areas.

significance to humans

Perform a service for livestock owners, but this has often not been recognized; evidence suggests some negative impacts and oxpecker extermination programs have been carried out in some areas. ♦

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