"Beauty": The tale of the murderous Ground Hornbill husband

"Beauty": The tale of the murderous Ground Hornbill husband

Back in 2012, I introduced Alex, my Ukrainian boyfriend (now hubby) to South Africa through a month-long, shoestring-budget road trip through my beautiful country.

Before checking into the Kruger National Park, we took the world-renowned Blyde River Canyon scenic drive, with a slight detour landing us at the fabulous Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

While waiting for our tour to begin, we noticed a Southern Ground Hornbill in its enclosure, right next to where we were gathered. Alex was immediately mesmerised by the big, beautiful bird. Even more so, the bird was clearly mesmerised by Alex! Without giving me a second glance, it followed Alex's every move. As it did so, it batted its gorgeously long eyelashes (that are actually feathers!!!) at him, almost in slow-motion. It seemed pretty obvious that the bird was trying to tell Alex something...

"Beauty, beauty", Alex kept repeating in amazement in his broken english, further stroking the obsessed bird's ego. It's not every day that you get to watch your boyfriend watching another bird. And it's certainly not every day that this is an enjoyable experience!

After spending quite some time with the hornbill, our tour guide arrived. Noticing the interaction between Alex and the bird, he took a moment to tell us a bit more about the hornbill. The male bird was a "permanent resident" at the centre as he could unfortunately not be released back into the wild. "The fleshy part of the bird’s throat, called a wattle, identifies its sex: The throat of a male hornbill is completely red, whereas a female sports a patch of violet blue." (National Geographic)

Some time ago, the centre introduced a female Southern Ground Hornbill to keep the male company. Shockingly and without warning, he killed her! Much later, a second female was introduced (perhaps the first one just wasn't his type?), and she too fell victim to his wrath.

It was unclear why the male attacked and killed his "wives". Our guide went on to explain something very unusual and interesting: Although the murderous bird is a male, the colouring of his wattle resembles that of a female. With a twinkle in his eyes, he remarks that now, seeing his eager interaction with Alex, it makes him wonder if perhaps the bird might have preferred a husband instead of a wife...!

Fast-forward to 2016 and the preparation of my first solo exhibition at the William Humphrey's Art Gallery (WHAG): While on the hunt for reference photos to paint from, I came across a stunning photo of a male Southern Ground Hornbill, captured by Good Grief Wildlife & Nature Photography. It immediately reminded me of our memorable meeting with the murderous hornbill husband at Moholoholo.

With a cheeky grin, I showed Alex the photo. "Beauty!", he exclaimed, and we collapsed with laughter...


To this day, Beauty remains one of my all-time favourite artworks. To my great joy, the original watercolour piece was purchased by the WHAG during my exhibition, and forms part of the gallery's vast collection of proudly South African art. Back then, my clumsy inexperience meant that I didn't think of having the original artwork professionally scanned. Sadly, I therefore don't have fine art prints available. But remember -- I do accept a limited amount of commissions each year! Contact me early to avoid disappointment.


work in progress watercolour painting of southern ground hornbill

work in progress watercolour painting of southern ground hornbill

work in progress watercolour painting of southern ground hornbill

work in progress watercolour painting of southern ground hornbill

realistic watercolour painting of southern ground hornbill cape town artist

More photo-realistic wildlife artworks available in store: 

fine art wildlife prints by the happy struggling artist

the happy struggling artist exclusive mailing list 001

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.