Buphagus erythrorhynchus (Red-billed oxpecker) 

RooibekrenostervoŽl [Afrikaans]; Ihlalanyathi [Xhosa]; iHlalankomo, iHlalanyathi (terms also applied to Red-billed oxpecker) [Zulu]; Kamugcara (generic term for oxpecker; check: same name as Red-billed buffalo weaver and African pygmy-goose) [Kwangali]; Tsande (generic name for oxpecker) [Shona]; Yandhana [Tsonga]; Kala [Tswana]; Roodsnavel-ossepikker [Dutch]; Piqueboeuf ŗ bec rouge [French]; Rotschnabel-madenhacker [German]; Pica-bois-de-bico-vermelho [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Sturnidae > Genus: Buphagus

Buphagus erythrorhynchus (Red-billed oxpecker)  Buphagus erythrorhynchus (Red-billed oxpecker) 

Red-billed oxpecker. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Red-billed oxpecker with a mouthful of blue ticks (Boophilus decoloratus). [photo Hugh Chittenden ©]

Red-billed oxpecker juveniles on an Impala's back. [photo Peet van Schalkwyk ©, see also scienceanimations.com]

For information about oxpeckers, see birdinfo.co.za.

Distribution and habitat

Occurs in patches from Ethiopia and Somalia through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia to southern Africa. Here it is locally common in the open Savanna of the Caprivi Strip (Namibia), Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique and north-eastern South Africa.

Distribution of Red-billed oxpecker in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  


Although it sometimes hawks termite aerially and gleans prey from vegetation, the bulk of its diet are ticks plucked from the skin of large mammals, especially Plains zebra (Equus quagga), rhinoceros (both African species), Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardis), horses, donkeys, goats and bovines, specifically antelope, cattle and African buffalo (Syncerus caffer). It may also collect blood and mucus from mammals with long hair, often drinking blood from fresh wounds, thus keeping the area clean and preventing infection or infestation by fly larvae (although this also leaves the wound open and unhealed, which is disadvantageous to the mammal).


  • Monogamous, cooperative breeder, as the breeding pair are usually assisted by up to 7 helpers who are usually unmated adults and juveniles from the previous breeding season. Both courtship-feeding and the copulation that follows take place on the back of a host mammal.
  • It usually nests in a natural tree cavity or a hole in rock or a stone wall, lining the interior with hair from its mammal hosts, dung, grass and rootlets. It is sometimes kicked out of its nest by Burchell's starlings (Lamprotornis australis) or Striped kingfishers (Halcyon chelicuti).
  • Egg-laying season is from October-March.
  • It lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about for about 12-13 days.
  • The chicks are fed by all members of the group, leaving the nest after about 30 days and becoming fully independent roughly two months later.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 



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