Red-billed Oxpecker

  • SCIENTIFIC NAME: Buphagus erythrorhynchus

  • SWAHILI NAME: Shashi domo-jekundu; Askari wa kifaru

Spot a herd of grazing animals almost anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa and you will see red- and yellow-billed oxpeckers riding on their backs. The birds seem to enjoy the blood they draw as much as the ticks they eat. Although they help rid grazers of parasites, they also open wounds to infection. The birds may provide a clearer benefit: the loud warning hiss they give when predators are near.

Red-billed Oxpecker

Red-billed Oxpecker



Daily Rhythm




Life span

15 years, maximum

Conservation Status

Lower risk


8 inches (20 cm) long

Red-billed Oxpecker

Listen to the sounds of the Red-billed Oxpecker

Trivia Question

What is the relationship between red-billed oxpeckers and the animals on which they perch?


Scientists used to think that red-billed oxpeckers preyed only on the ticks and parasites of their ungulate hosts. However, recent research reveals that oxpeckers are just as happy to eat the blood the ticks draw as they are the ticks themselves. They do, however, warn their “hosts” of danger when predators are near.


Red-billed oxpeckers perch on large wild animals and domesticated cattle. The red-bill devotes its day to plucking insects and ticks from its hosts and—except in breeding season—may also spend the night there.


Red-bills live on what they find to eat on the backs and heads of host animals, especially grazing mammals. They mostly consume ticks and other parasites as well as blood.

Friends & Foes

The red-bill’s range overlaps that of the yellow-billed oxpecker, which is usually dominant when both species feed together.

Population in Kenya

In Kenya, red-bills are found mostly in the southwest wherever there are large animals. The red-bill’s range overlaps with the yellow-billed oxpecker. Both varieties can be seen on the elephants, giraffes, hippos, and other large mammals at Mpala’s hippo pool.

Range & Habitat

The red-billed oxpecker is native to the savanna of sub-Saharan Africa, from the Central African Republic east to Sudan and south to northern and eastern South Africa.

Did you know?

A red-billed oxpecker typically consumes more than 300 ticks and over 1,000 larvae each day.