The hamerkop (scopus umbretta) is a small bird standing about two feet tall that is often thought to belong to the stork or heron family, but is distinctly different than both of these species. These unique birds can be found in sub-Saharan Africa, so you may spot them on your next East Africa safari.
These birds are not actually classified as belonging to either the stork or heron families, but they do share many characteristics with these and other avian species. Hamerkop's bills resemble those of the shoebill and boat-billed Heron. Its beak combined with its elongated head has earned it many different names, including “hammerhead stork” and “anvilhead.” Its feet share similar qualities to those of flamingos, with hind toes, and ridged comb-like toes like those of herons.
While they may have an outward appearance like that of other bird species, the Hamerkop have very unique character traits that set them apart from the flock. These birds build nests with roofs that are as large as six and a half feet in diameter and just as deep. They are so well-made a grown man could stand on top of one without fear of it collapsing. However, birding and nature travel enthusiasts should not attempt to test this theory, lest they disturb the birds' homes.
The nests take about three to six weeks to build and are typically constructed in trees near the water. Males and females work together to construct their homes, which consist of a small opening that tunnels to a larger cavernous hole inside the structure. The nests are often decorated with colorful items, including any man-made goods the birds find in the area. Typically, hamerkops abandon their nests after a few months' time, at which point other animals will make their homes in the structures.
You will mostly find these birds near the water, feeding on small fish, frogs, insects and other aquatic creatures. They will use their small, sharp bills to snatch up a treat and then bring it to dry land to devour it. If you see them flying, it may be easy to mistake them for herons and storks. When they are flapping their wings, they retract their necks and appear stork-like, but their necks will be elongated when they catch a draft and soar through the air.