Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta
Hamerkop are large, 22" (56cm) birds of the Heron family, although some authorities suggest Storks. A brown bird, with a 'hammer head' shaped crest, more visible when the short neck is extended. A very large bill which, along with the short legs and semi-webbed feet, are black. It has a 'pectinate' middle toenail - a long, forward-facing toe, with a toenail resembling a comb, with teeth-shaped parts on the side, used in preening, that cleans and straightens feathers. Storks typically feature pectinate toes, too. Habits
Hamerkop are usually seen in pairs or solitary, sometimes in small family groups. Mostly seen at a water's edge, feeding in the shallows. They habit swamp edges, lakes, slow-moving rivers and streams. When flying, they flap, then glide on large wings, with their necks extended.
They take over a month to build the biggest nest of any bird, when taken in size ratio (approx 2 metres diameter), that is constructed of sticks, straw and mud, having a hole in the side. Nests are usually built on top of a tree, across the fork of a branch and are domed and added to, annually. Nests are often co-inhabited by Owls, Egyptian Geese
, Grey Kestrels, Sparrows and Weavers.
On occasion, a small group of Hamerkop congregate and perform dances, jumping on each other's backs, accompanied by load calls and flapping their wings. A strange ritual that has little bearing on actual breeding. Diet
Hamerkop eat mostly amphibians, fish and frogs. They often wriggle their feet in mud, dislodging their prey. They have also been known to fly past water, picking up a fish as they pass. Resident
Hamerkop are seen all over Kenya, where there is suitable habitat. Extra Hamerkop Facts
Hamerkop is Dutch and Africaans for 'Hammer Head', one way the bird got its name. Kenyans name it 'Fundi Chuma' (Blacksmith), because of its call when flying "chink~chink~chink
Hamerkop are the subject of much local superstition, due to their extraordinarily large-sized nest that has a side entrance and central chamber. As well as sticks, straw and mud, the Hamerkop will collect the most unusual artefacts to build its nest, including items used by humans - from garden hose to clothing, most of which is plonked on the top. This very much resembles the local Witchdoctor's house, who arranges personal items outside his abode, of people he has bewitched..! Photographs
Photographed at Kenya's Mfangano Island (Lake Victoria), Nairobi NP, Masai Mara and Olare Orok Conservancy.