The Hamerkop, Scopus umbretta, also known as the Hammerhead, is a unique bird species found in sub-Saharan Africa, Arabia and Madagascar. It has, perhaps, a peculiar appearance and behaviour, but I found them fascinating from the first moment I encountered them. I had heard of them, vaguely, but was nevertheless taken aback when I saw one. Much bigger than I had imagined.

Collecting nesting materials…

Hamerkop collecting nesting materials

Appearance and Physical Characteristics

The Hamerkop has a distinctive appearance with its hammer-shaped head, long legs, and a compact body. It has a wingspan of approximately 1.5 meters, and an average weight of around 400 grams. The bird’s plumage is brownish-grey, with a slightly lighter belly. The head is usually darker than the rest of the body.

Hamerkop in tree


The Hamerkop is primarily active during the day, and can often be seen foraging for food along rivers, streams, and other water bodies. It feeds on a wide range of prey, including fish, frogs, crustaceans, insects, and small mammals. The bird has a unique feeding behaviour, where it will often use its feet to stir up mud and silt in shallow water to flush out prey.


It will also build large nests, which can be over two meters in diameter, out of sticks and other materials. Mud usually holds these huge, chambered structures together and they are strong enough to support the weight of an adult human! These nests, frequently in the forked are often used for several generations and can last for decades.

Hamerkop on nest

Unusually for a wading bird the nest has an internal nesting chamber where the eggs are laid. Both parents incubate the eggs, and raise the chicks.

Hamerkop collecting leaves
Hamerkop on grass

Conservation Status

The Hamerkop is not currently considered to be a threatened species, although its population is thought to be declining in some areas due to habitat loss and degradation. The bird’s unique nesting behaviour has also made it vulnerable to human disturbance, as its nests are often destroyed for building materials or other purposes.

Hamerkop, The Gambia

Interesting Facts

  • The Hamerkop is the only living species in the genus Scopus and the family Scopidae, making it a unique species within the bird world.
  • The name “Hamerkop” means “hammerhead” in Afrikaans, which refers to the bird’s distinctively shaped head.
  • It is also variously referred to as hammerkop, hammerkopf, hammerhead, hammerhead stork, umbrette, umber bird, tufted umber and anvilhead

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