For the past 20 years, researchers from the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology have been investigating southern ground-hornbills’ habitat use and reproductive success, largely to inform the activities of the Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project and the national Ground-Hornbill Working Group, our partners in implementing the national Species Recovery Plan and a recently compiled Biodiversity Management Plan for the species. The main study area is the Associated Private Nature Reserves or APNR, covering some 200 000 hectares and supporting about 30 ground-hornbill groups.
In the early years of the project, it was identified that there was a shortage of natural nesting sites, and so artificial nests began to be installed throughout the area. This is a task that has continued throughout the projects history and has proved pivotal for the birds of the APNR. Having access to these artificial nests gives them the opportunity to breed successfully and boost their population. Throughout the 20 years of the project’s existence, different researchers have asked different questions and generated information regarding the birds’ habitat-use, daily travel distances, territory sizes, seasonal movements, breeding success, and the effectiveness of artificial nests.
The project monitors 26 known nesting sites in the APNR. Out of these 26 nests, only three are natural nests; the rest are artificial. Therefore, without the implementation of the artificial nests, the population of ground-hornbills in the APNR would decline quite significantly. By providing them with viable artificial nests, we can help boost their numbers and encourage them to breed year after year. In this area, groups breed on average every three years, compared to every nine years in Kruger National Park, which can be attributed to the limited number of viable nesting sites. The increased breeding activity within the APNR also provides the opportunity to expand the population to areas surrounding our study site.