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Scopus umbretta

Pelecaniformes Order - Scopidae Family

Length: 47-56 cm; Wingspan: 90-94 cm; Weight: 415-430 g

Hamerkop is a waterbird. It is unmistakable with all-brown plumage, large “hammer-shaped” head, with heavy bill and square blunt crest on the nape. It has a powerful black bill, slightly hooked at the tip. Legs are blackish, with toes partially webbed. It has large wings and relatively short tail. Its plumage shows light and dark glossy, purplish streaks on wings and body.
Both sexes are similar.
Juveniles are similar to adults. Chicks have grey down and broad bills.

Hamerkop often stands still, hunched, or actively feeding, running near water, making jabbing movements. It often perches on the back of hippopotamuses, searching for frogs. Hamerkop stalks its preys by wading in shallow water, and striking forward with the bill. Then, it deposes the prey on the ground before to eat. It also probes into the mud, searching for invertebrates.  Birds are active at dusk, and rest during the day.

Hamerkop’s nest is a very bulky structure. It may size 2 metres wide and height, and 25 to 50 kg weight. The pair needs about six weeks or more to build this enormous nest. It is made with twigs, sticks, reeds, grasses and stems of aquatic vegetation. The chamber is lined with clay and mud, but also with waterweeds and dry grasses. They make an entrance hall, burrow-shaped, on one side, which opening is reduced with mud. The nest is located in a tree fork near water, or on a cliff, or on the ground.
Female lays 3 to 7 white eggs. Incubation lasts about 30 days, by both parents. Young are fed by both adults and are highly dependent. They fledge at about 7 weeks, but they roost every night in the nest during one month or more.
Nest is usually decorated on the outside with bright-coloured objects and unusual materials.

Hamerkop feeds on frogs, tadpoles, fish, shrimps, aquatic invertebrates, insects and grasshoppers.

Hamerkop has supernatural powers for the indigenous people. They may go away, removing their huts, if a Hamerkop flies directly overhead. Some cultures consider it to be magical and others as an evil omen.
This species is not endangered at this time. It is hold in a position of respect, and Hamerkops survive and flourish in the presence of men. Their numbers are increasing with creation of artificial wetlands, even they suffer from the excessive use of pesticides. 

Fr: Ombrette africaine
All : Hammerkopf
Esp : Avemartillo
Ital : Uccello martello
Nd: Hamerkop
Russe:  Молотоглав
Sd: Skuggstork

Photographs by Callie de Wet
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Photographs by Steve Garvie
RAINBIRDER Photo galleries

Texte by Nicole Bouglouan


HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105

L’ENCYCLOPEDIE MONDIALE DES OISEAUX - Dr Christopher M. Perrins -  BORDAS - ISBN: 2040185607

BIRDS OF AFRICA SOUTH OF THE SAHARA by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan - Princeton University Press Princeton and Oxford - ISBN: 0691118159

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

Wikipedia (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia)

CREAGUS@Monterey Bay (Don Roberson)


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Hamerkop is silent when alone. Its song is a series of shrill piping whistles. If several birds call at the same time, the noise is loud and distracting. It utters a far-carrying laughing cry, with rising inflexion. In flight, it utters a high-pitched and nasal “yip” or “kek”.

Hamerkop lives in all kinds of shallow waters. It frequents lake shores, marshes, and well vegetated rocky wades with slowly-running waters, from 300 to 3000 metres.

Hamerkop lives in Africa, south of Sahara, and also in Madagascar and southwest Arabia.

It is a sedentary bird. It remains in a well-defined territory. Some birds may move to dryer areas when rain is too abundant.
Hamerkops usually live in pair or in small flocks. When courtship occurs, we can see several birds dancing, hopping on each other’s backs, stretching their fluttered wings, raising their crest, and making a chorus of cries going on for a moment. Often, ten birds may call loudly, while running round each other in circles. Sometimes, a male mounts a crouched female, pretending to copulate.
The bulky nest often is compared to an apartment, housing several generations of Hamerkops or other animals such as bees, mongooses, lizards and snakes. These domed nests are among the most extraordinary constructions by birds. A pair may build several nests in its territory, some of which are never used.

Hamerkop flies with slow wing beats, often interspersed with glides on slightly bowed wings. But it doesn’t soar easily, with its short tail and large wings. When it is soaring, it stretches its head forward. It is fond of soaring.