Hamerkop

The hammerheads of the bird kingdom

Natnael Tadele

The Scopidae family is unique in the avian world, consisting of a single species known as the Hamerkop. This bird is indeed distinctive, with all of its members characterized by uniform brown plumage and a head that is shaped somewhat like a hammer, which is where it gets its name, meaning “hammerhead” in Afrikaans.

The Hamerkop, with its two subspecies, is native to Africa and Madagascar, where it frequents a wide variety of wetland habitats. These range from traditional lakes and marshes to man-made environments such as rice fields and fish ponds. The species is also comfortable in arid regions, as long as there is water nearby, and can be found in savannahs and even forested areas, showcasing a remarkable adaptability.

Hamerkops are carnivorous, feeding on a diet rich in aquatic invertebrates. They are skilled hunters, often seen wading through shallow water, using their sharp vision to spot prey before seizing it with their strong beaks. The variety of their diet is quite extensive, including fish, shrimp, insects, frogs, and occasionally small mammals.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Hamerkop is its nesting behavior. It constructs one of the most elaborate and sizable nests of any bird species. The nest is a massive structure made of sticks that takes weeks to build. Remarkably, these nests are used for breeding and raising young and may also provide shelter for other species, including birds and reptiles.

Both the male and female Hamerkop build the nest, which is a labor-intensive process resulting in a dome-shaped construction with a side entrance. These nests are often built on the forks of trees but can also be located on cliff ledges or even on human structures.

Despite its conspicuous nest, the Hamerkop is a shy, retiring bird that avoids human contact. It typically hunts alone or in pairs, often performing a synchronized hunting dance with its mate, which is a sight to behold.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2016
Benin
2016
Botswana
2016
Burkina Faso
2016
Burundi
2016
Cameroon
2016
Central Af. Rep.
2016
Chad
2016
Congo-Brazzaville
2016
Côte D’ivoire
2016
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2016
Djibouti
2016
Eritrea
2016
Eswatini
2016
Ethiopia
2016
Gabon
2016
Gambia
2016
Ghana
2016
Guinea-Bissau
2016
Guinea
2016
Kenya
2016
Lesotho
2016
Liberia
2016
Non-Breeding
Madagascar
2016
Malawi
2016
Mali
2016
Mauritania
2016
Mozambique
2016
Namibia
2016
Niger
2016
Nigeria
2016
Rwanda
2016
Saudi Arabia
2016
Senegal
2016
Sierra Leone
2016
Somalia
2016
South Africa
2016
South Sudan
2016
Sudan
2016
Tanzania
2016
Togo
2016
Uganda
2016
Yemen
2016
Zambia
2016
Zimbabwe
2016

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd / Flock

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No