The Hamerkop has long been a favourite bird of mine. Its silly head reminds me of the Kellogg’s Tooly Bird collectable range of the 1970’s which was my favourite of the many giveaways of the era. (I have just discovered a thriving trade in Kellogg’s collectables – it seems I can replace my entire tooly bird aviary via eBay for around R400.)
It was a shame that we were on our way out recently when a pair of Hamerkops visited the garden. Goodness knows what they were up to, but there was a great deal of chattering, nodding and wing-flapping going on and we rather hoped they were discussing a new nest site. There is a small, shallow dam surrounded by some quite decent trees which would suit them perfectly, and indeed they sat together thoughtfully on the fence nearby and (apparently) debated the pros and cons.
A Hamerkop nest is a thing of wonder. It’s astounding that a bird would go to all the trouble of constructing a wattle and daub home which may take many months to complete. A theory is that the nest provides security and an insulated warm environment enabling the birds to have larger broods than other ciconiiforms (stork-like birds). It may also allow the adults to leave the nestlings for long periods in order to find food.
Although the Hamerkops will happily re-use their nest for up to four years, the cosy homes are in demand by other species and are usurped by bees, other birds or reptiles. Imagine working for months on your home only to have it expropriated without compensation – one unlucky pair is reported to have built 18 nests in four years, losing most of them of Western Barn Owls.
I haven’t seen the pair again but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Photo credit: Sally Adam