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Common Name: Hamerkop
Scientific Name: Scopus umbretta

Size: 22 inches (56 cm)

Habitat: Africa; south of the Sahara, Madagascar and coastal southwest Arabia in all wetland habitats, including irrigated land such as rice paddies, as well as in savannas and forests. Most remain sedentary in their territories, which are held by pairs, but some move into suitable habitat during the wet season only. Whenever people create new bodies of water with dams or canals, Hamerkops move in quickly.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: 170,000 to 1,100,000. This species is potentially threatened by a deterioration in wetland water quality caused by the excessive use of pesticides and is hunted and traded at traditional medicine markets in Nigeria.

Diet: Amphibians; also fish, shrimp, insects and rodents. Hamerkops feed during the day, often taking a break at noon to roost. They normally feed alone or in pairs. They walk in shallow water looking for prey, possibly raking their feet on the bottom or suddenly opening their wings to flush prey out of hiding.

Nesting: The strangest aspect of Hamerkop behavior is the huge nest, sometimes more than 1.5 m across, comprising perhaps 10,000 sticks and strong enough to support a man's weight. The birds decorate the outside with any bright-colored objects they can find. When possible, they build the nest in the fork of a tree, often over water, but if necessary they build on a bank, a cliff, a human-built wall or dam, or on the ground. A pair starts by making a platform of sticks held together with mud, then builds walls and a domed roof. A mud-plastered entrance 13 to 18 cm wide in the bottom leads through a tunnel up to 60 cm long to a nesting chamber big enough for the parents and young.

These birds are compulsive nest builders, constructing 3 to 5 nests per year whether they are breeding or not. Barn Owls and eagle owls may force them out and take over the nests, but when the owls leave, the Hamerkops may reuse the nests.

At the finished nest, a pair gives displays similar to those of the group ceremonies and mates, often on top of the nest. The clutch consists of 3 to 7 eggs that start white but soon become stained. Both sexes incubate for 28 to 30 days. Both feed the young, often leaving them alone for long times; this unusual habit for wading birds may be made possible by the thick nest walls. The young hatch covered with gray down. By 17 days after hatching, their head and crest plumage is developed, and in a month, their body plumage. They leave the nest at 44 to 50 days but roost in it at night until about two months after hatching.

Cool Facts: The Hamerkop's behavior is unlike other birds'. One unusual feature is that up to ten birds join in "ceremonies" in which they run circles around each other, all calling loudly, raising their crests, fluttering their wings. Another is "false mounting", in which one bird stands on top of another and appears to mount it, but they may not be mates and do not copulate.

Myths, Stories & Legend: The lightning bird is a real or imaginary bird superstitiously associated with special powers among southern African native peoples. The believed supernatural powers vary according to the traditions of different tribes. Generally lightning is believed to be the bird's manifestation. The bird or its egg are believed to be retrievable from the scene of the lightning strike, both of which are believed to contain special properties.

Among certain African tribes the Hamerkop is believed to be the lightning bird. Among others the lightning bird is believed to manifest itself only through lightning, except to women, to whom it reveals itself as a bird. In these instances the bird is of imaginary nature and may take several forms. In one instance a village girl described a black rooster-like bird that ran up her hoe and left claw marks on her body before it flew back to the clouds. In other instances it is described as having iridescent feathers like a peacock's or a fiery red tail, bill and legs.

Found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Legend

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