A Red-billed Oxpecker ( Buphagus erythrorhynchus ) on a buffalo

The Oxpecker ( Buphagus ) are the only genus of the bird family Buphagidae. The group consists of only two species whose natural habitat is the savannas of central and eastern Africa are south of the Sahara. Both species live there in open symbiosis with large domestic or wild animals.

Previously, the Oxpecker mostly as a subfamily Buphaginae to the starlings ( Sturnidae ) were asked.

Way of life

Oxpecker are gregarious birds that feed on insects and their larvae. To this end, they often hold on to large wild animals or domestic animal herds and can carry around from them. You are looking for from the fur of animals for parasites and remove them with their powerful beaks. They also warn their host animals of approaching predators.

Oxpecker have broad feet and are good fliers. Their plumage is light brown. The two species differ in the beak color. The birds nest in holes, often in walls, which are lined with hairs of their host animals. There they erbrüten two or three eggs.

Cleaning symbiosis

But also when Oxpecker not necessarily depend on a host, so they prefer life with this, because it gives them shelter and food. Your body is adapted to this. Generally you have the picture that this is a typical example of symbiosis, with the support of the bird is finally released from his parasites. This contributes not only to the health of the wearer, but by reducing the risk of disease and the health of the entire herd.

This view was, however, been recently questioned. The English zoologist Paul Weeks came to the conclusion that the relationship of Madenhacker to their hosts quite carries parasitic trains. By investigating the feeding behavior of Red-billed hackers on a group of domestic animals in Zimbabwe Weeks found out that this only 15 percent of their time spend with parasite extermination. They spend the rest of the time trying to peck in the wounds of animals to keep them open to eat their earwax or find some other way in the fur for food. In this case, the blood, and small pieces of the wound edges were preferred as food.

A further investigation revealed that cattle from which the Oxpecker were expelled, were not strongly affected by parasites as a " spruced " comparison group. It remains to be determined whether these results are applicable to the approximately 25 other big game species of Zimbabwe.

Systematics and phylogeny

The Oxpecker were usually assigned as a subfamily Buphaginae the family of starlings. However, due to the results of genetic comparative studies, they are now regarded as a separate family ( Buphagidae ), since they are related more remotely with the other starlings and constitute a basal representative who has survived in its ecological niche. The origins of the genre should lie in Southeast Asia.

The two recognized species are the Red-billed Oxpecker ( Buphagus erythrorhynchus ) and the Yellow -billed Oxpecker ( Buphagus africanus) from sub-Saharan Africa.