Learn about the black rhinoceros bird and its relationship with the black rhino.
The bird that perches on the black rinoceros' back, a relative of the starling, is called an oxpecker (a member of the Sturnidae family). Found only in Africa, the yellow-billed oxpecker (Buphagus africanus) is widespread over much of western and central Africa, while the red-billed oxpecker (Buphagus erythrorhynchus) lives in eastern Africa from the Red Sea to Natal.
Seven to eight inches long (17 to 20 centimeters) with a coffee-brown body, the oxpecker feeds on more than 20 species of ticks that live in the hide of the black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), also called the hook-lipped rhino. The bird spends most of its time on the rhinoceros or on other animals, such as the antelope, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, etc. The bird has been known to even roost on the body of its host.
The relationship between the oxpecker and the rhinoceros is a type of symbiosis (a close association between two organisms in which at least one of them benefits) called mutualism.
The rhinoceros' relief of its ticks and the bird's feeding clearly demonstrates mutualism (a condition in which both organisms benefit). In addition, the oxpecker, having much better eyesight than the nearsighted rhinoceros, alerts its host with its shrill cries and flight when danger approaches.