Raptors are among the biggest and most easily spotted birds in our countryside. They are also perhaps the…
Hamerkop (from the Afrikaans for “hammer-head”);
Scopus umbretta (Genus Scopus (Latin = a broom or brush, alluding to the bird’s crest OR Greek = to search, examine or consider) umbretta (Latin = shade or shady, for the head and beak which “give the head an umbrella-like appearance” (!))
The call (listen to the good clear video above) is very distinctive; once heard, you can’t forget it.
There is a curious uncertainty over the derivation of the scientific name: is ‘scopus‘ the Greek word meaning to search, examine or consider, or the Latin word meaning a brush? As for me, I prefer the Greek – scopus, to search, examine or consider. For that is exactly what they do, staring deeply into the water, with the head inquisitively on one side, considering, looking first with one eye, then the other. Hamerkops can be seen even in suburbs gazing solemnly into swimming pools or garden ponds a swimming pool that have become good breeding places for frogs.
I am pretty sure that hamerkops don’t swim – they’re waders – so all they can do is stare longingly, or rather (depending on whether or not you are the frog they’re looking at) hungrily and menacingly, at any frog they spy in a deep swimming pool. In our rural areas, it is a very common sight on the edge of a small stream or pool – a lone kondo patiently and philosophically considering.
Three pictures this time, to show you this bird’s unmistakable and strange (but handsome) appearance, its size relative to a largish frog (these form a major part of its diet), and its remarkably large and unruly nest, although they can be even bigger than the one shown in this picture.
They are easily recognisable in flight, a slow flapping style with broad gliding wings and that head looking quite like a pterodactyl, a prehistoric flying dinosaur. Actually, birds did in fact evolve from reptiles: their scaly legs and feet look very reptilian and they are small flying dinosaurs. If I imagine myself the size of a frog or a grasshopper, I can almost feel the fear that a medium sized creature must have felt as they were stalked by a dinosaur such as Tyrannosaurus rex.
The hamerkop is a “stalk-and-stabber”, like herons, wading slowly through shallows, watching the waters intently, with its head on one side inquisitively (it’s eyes are very much on the side of its head); and then – suddenly – stabbing at an unsuspecting or frozen-stiff-with-fear (or hoping-against-hope) frog. The YouTube site below shows a very nice clip of a pair of Hamerkops fishing on the edges of a weir: you’ll see that they are not afraid of crocodiles – in fact, the crocs are not interested in eating these birds but are catching fish up against the wall. (The clip has some very nice guitar music as well, an added bonus that fits well with the way the hamerkops run about on the beach.)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gwtr1QBGJHs (video of hamerkops fishing with crocodiles)
– Stephen Buckland –