This African species ccurs in patches from Ethiopia and Somalia through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia, and into noth-eastern Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Mozambique and north-eastern South Africa.
These birds are 19-22 cm long and weigh 42-60 g.
Red-billed oxpeckers live in open savannas, bushlands, and forests that contain large mammals including domestic livestock. They are found up to an altitude of 2.745 m.
These birds obtain the whole of their food on the bodies of large herbivorous mammals, especially plains zebra Equus quagga, rhinoceros, giraffe Giraffa camelopardis, horses, donkeys, goats and bovines, specifically antelope, cattle and African buffalo Syncerus caffer. They take parasites such as ticks, fleas, biting flies and their larvae taken from the host mammals. They also feed on blood, dead tissues and skin from fresh wounds, thus keeping the area clean and preventing infection or infestation by fly larvae, although this also leaves the wound open and unhealed, which is disadvantageous to the mammal.
Red-billed oxpecker nest in October-March. They are onogamous, cooperative breeders, with the breeding pair being assisted by up to 7 helpers who are usually unmated adults and juveniles from the previous breeding season. They nest in natural tree cavities or in holes in rocks or stone walls, lining the interior with hair from its mammal hosts, dung, grass and rootlets. The female lays 2-5 eggs which are incubated by both sexes for about for 12-13 days. The chicks are fed by all members of the group, fledging about 30 days after hatching but only becoming fully independent 2 months later.
IUCN status – LC (Least Concern)
Although the global population size has not been quantified, this species is described as locally common over its very large breeding range. The population is suspected to be in decline owing to the reduction in numbers of large game host species and the dipping of domestic cattle, but the species is not considered threatened at present.