The Hamerkop is a unique bird that is found only in Africa and Madagascar. Their name is Afrikaans for “Hammer Head”, in reference to their oddly shaped heads. These medium-sized birds weigh about 500g and reach a length of 50cm. Hamerkops are diurnal birds, mostly seen in mated, territorial pairs or family groups. Their diet consists of amphibians, small fish, crabs and other water-inhabiting invertebrates, and thus they are to be found at aquatic habitats such as lakes, dams, marshes, estuaries, seasonal pans, streams and rivers.
Hamerkop nests are enormous structures, often over 1.5m wide and able to support a man’s weight, built of sticks and twigs over the course of many months, in big trees or on cliffs, with a small side entrance to a tunnel leading to the nesting chamber deep inside. Although the Hamerkop pair may use the same nest for many seasons their nests are often take over by small mammals and other birds, mostly owls. They breed throughout the year, laying between 3 and 7 eggs that are incubated by both parents for around 4 weeks, with the chicks then leaving the nest about two months after hatching.
There are many traditional beliefs about the Hamerkop in Africa, such as that it heralds the death of a family member or that it can attract lightning. The Hamerkop has a wide distribution in Madagascar and sub-Saharan Africa, with a large, stable population, and is therefore considered of least conservation concern by the IUCN. They occur all over South Africa where suitable habitat is to be found, and are thus more common on the wetter eastern sides of the country than in the arid west.