NAIROBI PARK DIARY

The unique hamerkop

The birds have a very unusual appearance

In Summary

• Their name is very apt as the head is indeed shaped like a hammer

Hammerkop fish catch
Hammerkop fish catch
Image: GARETH JONES

The recent rains have resulted in a very wet park. It is amazing how areas that were bone-dry a month ago have now almost become marshes and even mini lakes.

One thing about plentiful flow of water is that this seasonal change attracts other natural activity. I was driving down the slippery muddy road to the stream crossing near the Hyena dam. I stopped as I noticed several hamerkop birds standing in the fast flowing water.

They stood motionless at first, but then used their legs to probe the muddy water repeatedly. Suddenly, one of them would strike with lightning speed into the water and emerge with a prize in its beak. Their prizes ranged from small fish to tadpoles and other tasty aquatic creatures.

I find it interesting how many hamerkops can be attracted to all gather at one point and hunt for food together. They have an almost prehistoric appearance with their uniquely shaped head in the form of a huge, elongated beak and elongated rear tuft.

The birds have a very unusual appearance and their name is very apt as the head is indeed shaped like a hammer.

The Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta), also known as Hammerkopf, Hammerhead, Hammerhead Stork, Umber Bird or Anvilhead, is a medium-sized wading bird ( 56 cm long, weighing 470 g). The shape of its head has a unique almost ancient prehistoric pterodactyl-like appearance, with an elongated bill and crest at the back that is reminiscent of a hammer, hence its name.

Hamerkops breed in the Nairobi park and are good at making huge, untidy nests that are sometimes occupied by other species, such as owls and eagles.

Next time you visit the park, take time to find a place where there is flowing water and look carefully for hamerkop birds. They are very rewarding to watch!