These funny characters with their crazy bills and long eyelashes are fun to watch. But they also make hilarious sounds! One sounds like drums in the distance. One cries like a baby. Some cluck like chickens. And some make frenzied whistles. Let’s listen…

Southern Ground Hornbill


How cool is this sound? You can hear it for 3 km! It could be confused with an Ostrich, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl or even a lion. If you listen closely you can tell the male and female apart. The male’s voice is deeper and more booming; the female’s is higher and more trumpeting.

Trumpeter Hornbill
Gewone Boskraai


If you’re walking in the bush and hear a crying baby, it might be on of these big hornbills! Their voice sounds like a trumpet (hence the name). When a whole bunch get together in fruiting figs, the noise can be incredible! I recorded this in a flooded mushitu forest in Zambia.

Crowned Hornbill
Gekroonde Neushoringvoël


Hornbills can be divided into two categories: head-up whistlers (like this one) or head-down cluckers. The Crowned Hornbill sits very upright when calling and jerks its bill upwards with each note, while rocking back and forth. A very cool display to see! This is a group of ten birds.

African Grey Hornbill


A Grey Hornbill singing from a dead tree in Bushveld near Thabazimbi. It starts with soft piping whistles, like a Pearl-spotted Owlet. Then the bird starts giving loud, piercing whistles with a rocking rhythm. A really beautiful bird call – one of my favourite sounds. You can hear some flight calls from a bird flying through a wooded gorge towards the end of the clip.

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill


The clip starts with a pair clucking softly to themselves while hopping about on the ground with some starlings. Can you make out the different voices of the two birds? Then there’s a song from a male in Namibia. He is holding his down and spreading his wings above his back. The call is tough to tell from Red-billed’s; it is best to actually see the bird. But Yellow-billed is a bit higher and more whooping, like a hyena.

Southern Red-billed Hornbill


The scientific name of hornbills is Tockus, because of the sound they make: tok-tok-tok… In many African languages they are called toko or koko. The call of Red-billed is difficult to tell from Yellow-billed’s. But, at the end of the song, Red-billed starts giving double notes – can you hear it? I recorded this on a blazing hot summer afternoon in the Bushveld. BTW, Damara Red-billed sounds the same as Southern Red-billed.

  • Please be careful not to disturb birds too much if you’re playing their sounds.
  • All the sound and images on this page are copyright Faansie Peacock/Firefinch App.
  • To hear all the bird sounds, check out my Firefinch app on App Store/Google Play.