Unsure of which bird to profile this next, a did an informal poll of selected friends and acquaintances via text message. Some were very specific in their responses (G. likes the Malachite Kingfisher; B. is partial to the Black-winged Lovebird). Others were less specific: “Any type of hawk,” for instance. A couple mentioned birds that don’t appear to exist n Ethiopia, if at all (“Lavender crested roller;” “Midnight Starling”).
Still others were open to interpretation, but that was the fun part. “The little ones that are either red or blue with red cheeks;” “It’s tan/brown with a very long, blade like tail;” “the teeny tiny ones half red half brown;” “That deep blue iridescent crow like bird;” “That sweet tiny blue and grey bird with red cheeks;” “The tiny little red ones that feed on the little grains on the ground;” “ the one with the long tail;” “The giant stork that eats flamingos if given the chance.”
So, by my account, we have 2 Red-cheeked cordon bleu, 2 Firefinches, one Eurasian Hoopoe, one Greater Blue-Eared Starling, one African Paradise Flycatcher, and one Marabou Stork.
Lacking a clear mandate, I found myself drawn to two other responses. The first was from A: “The one with a massive, awkward beak.” The second was from L: “The big scary black one with the huge white beak and terrifying yell.” In both cases I jumped to the conclusion that I was hearing from a fellow Thick-Billed Raven lover. In both cases, after a moment of reflection, I realized that had to be wrong. They both had to be describing the Silvery-cheeked Hornbill.
On one of my first trips to Bahir Dar, the receptionist-cum-birding guide at my hotel told me a story about a client of his from South Africa whose unfulfilled life dream was to see a Silvery-cheeked Hornbill in the wild. I felt lucky, if not a little smug, at that moment. Having lived in Africa for less than six months, I’d been able to observe these striking birds in the trees across the road from the privacy and comfort of my front stoop.
Bycanistes brevis is quite a large bird (30 or more in length), black and white in color, and found in the treetops of Eastern Africa, from Ethiopia down to Mozambique. It is easily recognized by its large, off-white bill, which is topped by a large protuberance known as a casque (larger in the males of the species, smaller and grayer in the female). This large hornbill is an omnivore, but its favorite food is fruit, and it is especially fond of figs. So keep an eye on those shola trees in your area. One source says it “gives loud, nasal calls … and utters various sounds such as braying, howling and screeching sounds.” By chance (I could not make this up) one is sitting in a big fig tree almost directly over my head as I write this, and its call sounds to me like a mocking laugh.