• behaviour;
  • breeding;
  • interspecific association;
  • intraspecific aggression;
  • oxpecker;
  • Sturnidae;
  • symbiosis

Oxpeckers Buphagus spp are unique passerines owing to their involvement in a cleaning association with domestic and wild African ungulates. Oxpeckers not only utilize their hosts for food but also use them as perches for resting, preening, displaying and copulating, as well as a source of nesting material. Because of their high activity levels, unusual dietary requirements and complex interspecific association, the management and breeding of oxpeckers is challenging. In July 2007, 21 Red-billed oxpeckers Buphagus erythrorhynchus were collected from the wild and housed at the Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre of the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, Pretoria. They were fed an artificial diet supplemented with Blue ticks Boophilus decoloratus and Mealworms Tenebrio molitor. Oxpeckers had limited contact with Donkey Equus asinus hosts, which they used for plucking hair and performing their nuptial display. During the 2007–2008 oxpecker breeding season, intense intraspecific aggression and dominance exhibited by the breeding pair led to the removal of 18 oxpeckers from the enclosure. Only the breeding pair and one other adult ♀ remained in the enclosure. In December, a single ♂ Red-billed oxpecker hatched. The remaining three adults assisted in feeding the hatchling until it began to feed entirely on its own at day 68–70. The fledgling reached adult coloration at c. 8 months.