This is what birding does to you. You are busy minding your own business, but then as a birder birds become your business. Especially when you are fully aware of your environment. When you can easily notice a trail of ants or a chameleon in the nearby bush. Sometimes you think you might be going mad. Particularly when you stalk birds in a residential area. I’ve done this. I hope no one thought I was spying on them.
One day I notice a Hamerkop collecting nesting material. Every day for about almost month I notice the bird flying past, clearly not bothered by the residents going to work. Normally, Hamerkops build their nests near water sources. I plainly assume it’s nest is nowhere near the road where I occasionally see it. So now, at this point, I’m curious to find it’s nest. The geographical zone has plenty of water sources so I say I will go birding one of these warm days. Lately though, procrastinating on serious bird watching has been a trend. Lately, my excuses have been this spontaneous weather.
Since the Hamerkop has completely got my attention, overshadowing the Black Headed Heron which I also get to view every morning, observing the species became the trend. Some days, I can easily know when I’m late or early. This will happen when I see the Hamerkop picking the nesting material to when it’s flying above or I don’t get to see it in that day. Unlike humans who can decide to procrastinate on important tasks and priorities, animals are very consistent with their survival mode whether the conditions are favourable or not. It’s instinctual.
So this one day I know I won’t get to see that Hamerkop. But I’m curious since I’m not as late or early. I notice the Hamerkop approach from another side. So, where is this guy or girl coming from with nesting material from another side?
You know when what you are looking for is close yet seems so far. The Hamerkop’s nest was right next to a tree by the road. I have no idea why it never occurred to me that this particular tree could be the Hamerkop’s home since they show a preference for nesting in dead trees standing in water. The tree it is nesting on has wide branches to support the weight of the nest plus the advantage of having leaves that fully shade the nest from any predator – and is fully alive. Adventures are made of this. No matter how small, it still remains an interesting observation. Despite its proximity to a somewhat busy road, the Hamerkop is able to forage in the nearby Ondiri Swamp and the several rivers that flow within the area. Sticks and mud are also easy to access especially now with the current rainy season. This is a reminder of how trees are very important not only for us but for other species.
The Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) probably derived its name from its large hammer-shaped crested head and short neck. It does have an easy name to remember. Even a child will remember the name. Their nests are massively built [can be as huge as 6 – 8 feet (1 – 3 meters)] with sticks and mud having a side entrance hole in a tree crotch. The nest has walls, a roof and a tunnel, plastered with mud, that leads to a sheltered inner chamber where the female lays her eggs. The Hamerkop is unique that it had to belong to its own scientific family Scopidae and genus Scopus. Hamerkop means ‘hammer-head’ in Africaans.
The Hamerkop hunts for prey such as tadpoles, small fish, insects, shrimp and other invertebrates. They are monogamous bird species and breed singly laying 3–9 eggs in their huge nests.
Enemies include bees, Barn Owls which occupy the inside of their large nests. Egyptian Geese and other ducks, and Verreaux’s Eagle Owls will sometimes breed on top of these structures.
When you get to see an unusual-looking, dark dusky brown, medium-sized bird with long legs and a ‘hammer’ head, know you have seen the Hamerkop. The only one of its kind. Scopus.