Kenya Birds

Hamerkop


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Hamerkop

Photograph(s) Copyright ŠP&H HARRIS

Scopus umbretta

Other Names

  English Hammerhead, Hammer-headed Stork   French Ombrette africaine   German Hammerkopf   Spanish Avemartillo   Swedish Skuggstork   Dutch Hamerkop   Italian Umbretta, Uccello martello

World: Afrotropical, widespread S of 15°N.

Kenya: Occurs singly or in pairs on all types of slow moving and still waters, where there is adequate prey.

The Hamerkop is a distinctive bird which is in a Family (Scopidae) all on its own. It has variously been grouped with herons, storks and the shoebill. However recent thinking links it to waders and shorebirds.

Its enigmatic taxonomy matches its behaviour, particularly when it comes to nest building. Hamerkop nests are massive, they average 1.5m in depth and are almost as wide, the structure takes 3 to 6 weeks to complete having been worked on by both members of the pair. They are not just massive they are also structurally solid, a completed nest can support the weight of a man. As if that isn't enough, they don't just build one of these, they may build half a dozen in their territory ... and then they will only use one of them (and that will only be just the once). Why they do this is still a mystery but it's a real boon to other birds. Verreaux's Eagle-Owls frequently take over Hamerkop nests once the birds have built the initial solid platform and after the Hamerkops have finished with them Barn Owls, Egyptian Geese and Comb Ducks are among a long list of species that take advantage of them. Even when the Hamerkops are in residence sparrows and other small birds often choose to nest in them. And it's not just other birds that benefit, snakes, genets and monitor lizards will all use them for sleeping in. At Lake Baringo Club a venerable old Hamerkop nest was used for a number of years by a variety of other birds including a pair of Grey Kestrels.

We've seen Hamerkop in most of the places that we visit regularly, with the Rift Valley lakes being particularly good areas for seeing them.

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