Red-billed Oxpecker

Red Billed Oxpecker

Nearly anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa, you can find a herd of grazing animals and often see red- and yellow-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorynchus) riding on top of them. The ticks they consume and the blood they draw are enjoyable to the birds.

These black birds assist grazers in getting rid of parasites but also expose wounds to infection. The loud warning hiss that birds make when predators are nearby may be the birds’ most obvious benefit.

Red Billed Oxpecker

Red-billed Oxpecker Physical Characteristics

Red Billed Oxpecker Physical Characteristics

The red-billed oxpecker is a passerine bird found in the savannah of sub-Saharan Africa. It has olive-brown feathers and stands approximately 0.2 meters (7.87 inches) tall, weighing around 0.05 kilograms (0.7 ounces) when fully grown. Its distinctive features include a bright red beak and eyes with yellow[1] rings.

Juvenile oxpeckers are darker brown than adults, and their bills initially have a dark olive color that gradually changes to an adult color after four months. With strong legs and long, sharp claws, the bird can cling to the fur of animals while foraging for parasites.

The red-billed oxpecker has specially adapted tail feathers that are stiffened, serving as a tripod to support itself against the bodies of its hosts during feeding. It nests in tree holes lined with hair plucked from livestock and typically lays 2-5 eggs[2], with an average of three. Its flight is strong and direct, and its call is described as a hissy crackling sound, often represented as “trik-quisss“.

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Red-billed Oxpecker symbiotic relationship

Red Billed Oxpecker Symbiotic Relationship

The hosts of the oxpecker bird are large mammals.

  • There are two species of oxpeckers in the area. They coexist with various herbivores, from small Warthogs and Impalas to large Giraffes, buffalo, and Rhinos.
  • These birds engage in a win-win arrangement known as mutualistic symbiosis, picking and eating parasites from their hosts’ skin during the day. There are several benefits to the relationship for both species.

Red-billed Oxpecker makes communication and alarm call

Red Billed Oxpecker Alarm Call

Oxpeckers can benefit hosts by producing alarm calls when identifying predators. Oxpeckers are friendly birds that communicate by whistling and chattering.

  • Typically more alert than most large animals, birds rise loudly, hiss, and rasp when startled.
  • The animal will typically respond by looking up and away from the threat. This also serves the dual purpose of alerting people to the possibility of coming into contact with a dangerous animal, like a buffalo.
  • One could be alerted to the presence of a potentially dangerous animal by looking for areas where Oxpeckers fly up or down and listening for their distinctive rasping call.

Red-billed Oxpecker unusual feeding habit

Red Billed Oxpecker Feeding Habits

Ticks, flies, lice, and worms that can be removed from the fur of domestic cattle, buffalos, rhinos, giraffes, and large antelopes are the main food sources for oxpeckers. To remove the food from the fur, they use either scissoring or pecking motions. The red-billed oxpecker extracts insects entangled in long hair using a scissor motion.

Red-billed Oxpecker are cooperative breeders

Red Billed Oxpeckers Cooperative0breeders

Except in cases where a mate dies, these birds have lifelong relationships. It’s interesting to note that red-billed oxpeckers cooperative breeders.

  • This implies that only one breeding pair will incubate the eggs in a group of these birds. The remaining group members, who have frequently grown chicks from the dominant pair’s previous broods, are known as “helpers“.
  • The helper’s duties include assisting the new chicks’ in feeding and removing their shells and faecal sacs. This is done to prevent nest-dwelling predators from becoming aware of the chicks.
  • Only two species of birds are in the family Buphagidae, including the Red-billed Oxpecker. It is a fairly widespread bird found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa’s savannah grasslands and bushveld regions, from Ethiopia and Somalia down to Mozambique and the northeastern regions of South Africa.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a red-billed oxpecker do?

what does a red-billed oxpecker do?

The red-billed oxpecker is a bird species found in Africa. They perch on large wild animals and domesticated cattle and feed almost exclusively on what they can glean from the skin of these mammals, plucking insects and ticks from their hosts. They also use hair plucked from livestock to line their tree-hole nests.

Are red-billed oxpeckers carnivores?

are red-billed oxpeckers carnivores?

Yes, red-billed oxpeckers are carnivores. They feed almost exclusively on what they can glean from the skin of large African mammals, including ixodid ticks, dead skin, mucus, saliva, blood, sweat, and tears. They also feed on insects such as ticks, flies, worms, and lice.

Are red-billed oxpeckers endangered?

are red-billed oxpeckers endangered?

Red-billed oxpeckers are not currently considered endangered. However, they were once considered “near threatened” in South Africa due to a decline in their numbers caused by excessive hunting of their two main hosts, rhinos and buffalos. They are now listed as a species of “least concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Where are red-billed oxpecker found?

where are red-billed oxpecker found?

Red-billed oxpeckers are found in the savanna of sub-Saharan Africa. They range from the Central African Republic east to Sudan and south to northern and eastern South Africa. They are found in savanna woodland and farmland, up to 3000 meters, and are absent from forested regions and from arid, treeless areas. They enjoy open savannas, shrubs, and grassy plains. They are also found in shrubland and wetland.

Are oxpeckers parasitic or mutualistic?

are oxpeckers parasitic or mutualistic?

The relationship between oxpeckers and large mammals has been debated, with some considering it mutualistic and others considering it parasitic. Recent research suggests that the relationship can be both mutualistic and parasitic in nature. While they help remove parasites from their hosts, they may also peck at open wounds and consume ungulate tissues, which can cause harm to their hosts.

What advantage does the red-billed oxpecker have why is it an advantage?

what advantage does the red-billed oxpecker have why is it an advantage?

Red-billed oxpeckers have several advantages, including feeding on ticks and other parasites found on large mammals’ backs, which helps reduce tick loads on their hosts. They also consume their hosts’ blood, providing them with a rich source of nutrients. Additionally, they emit a loud warning hiss when they sense danger, which alerts their hosts to potential threats.

Cite This Page

APA7MLA8Chicago (2023, September 26). Red-billed Oxpecker. Bio Explorer. "Red-billed Oxpecker" Bio Explorer, 26 September 2023, "Red-billed Oxpecker" Bio Explorer, September 26 2023.
Key References
  • [1]“Mpala Live! Field Guide: Red-billed Oxpecker | MpalaLive”. Accessed June 15, 2023. Link.
  • [2]“Buphagus erythrorhynchus (Red-billed oxpecker)”. Accessed June 15, 2023. Link.
  • [3]“Manually Fix”. Accessed June 15, 2023. Link.
  • [4]“Manually Fix”. Accessed June 15, 2023. Link.
  • [5]“Red-billed Oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorynchus) – BirdLife species factsheet”. Accessed June 15, 2023. Link.
  • [6]“Are Oxpeckers Friends or Foes? Evaluating a Symbiotic Relationship”. Accessed June 15, 2023. Link.
  • [7]“Mutualism or parasitism? Using a phylogenetic approach to characterize the oxpecker-ungulate relationship – PubMed”. Accessed June 15, 2023. Link.


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