The oxpecker consists of two species of bird which make up the family Buphagidae; some ornithologists regard them as a subfamily Buphaginae within the starling family Sturnidae but they appear to be quite distinct (see e.g. Zuccon et al. 2006). Oxpeckers are endemic to sub-Saharan African savannah.
According to the more recent studies of Muscicapoidea phylogeny (Cibois & Cracraft 2004, Zuccon et al. 2006), the oxpeckers are an ancient line related to Mimidae (mockingbirds and thrashers) and starlings but not particularly close to either. Considering the known biogeography of these groups, the most plausible explanation seems that the oxpecker lineage originated in Eastern or Southeastern Asia like the other two (Zuccon et al. 2006). This would make the two species of Buphagus something like living fossils, and elegantly demonstrates that such remnants of past evolution can possess striking and unique autapomorphic adaptations.
Oxpeckers are medium-sized starlings with strong feet. Their flight is strong and direct, and they are fairly gregarious. Their preferred habitat is open country, and they eat insects. Both the English and scientific names arise from their habit of perching on large mammals (both wild and domesticated) such as cattle or rhinoceroses, and eating ticks, botfly larvae, and other parasites which lodge in mammalian skin and must be dug out. This symbiotic relationship is believed to be mutualistic.