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Scopus umbretta (Hamerkop) 

Hamerkop [Afrikaans]; Uqhimngqoshe, Uthekwane [Xhosa]; uThekwane [Zulu]; Mfune [Kwangali]; Mamasianoke, Masianoke [South Sotho]; vaKondo [Shona]; Tsekwane [Swazi]; Mandonzwana [Tsonga]; Mmamasiloanokę [Tswana]; Hamerkop [Dutch]; Ombrette africaine [French]; Hammerkopf [German]; Pássaro-martelo [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Scopidae

Scopus umbretta (Hamerkop)   

Hamerkop, Knysna region, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ©]


Distribution and habitat

Occurs in south-western Arabia, Madagascar and sub-Saharan Africa. It is locally common across southern Africa, although scarce to absent in the arid western region. It generally favours the shallow margins of lakes, pans, swamps, rivers, marshes, streams, seasonally flooded ponds and even small puddles in gravel roads.

Distribution of Hamerkop in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

Mainly sedentary, although it may move locally in response to food availability,


It eats mainly the adults and tadpoles of platanna frogs (Xenopus), which have a very similar distribution to the Hamerkop, suggesting that it is dependent on them for food. It also eats other frogs, small fish and insects, using a variety of foraging techniques, such as wading through the water and stabbing prey, still-hunting at the water's edge or pouncing on prey from the air. It has also been observed robbing Hadedas of earthworms that they pulled up from a sports field (HG Robertson personal observation). The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Vertebrates
    • amphibians
      • Xenopus (frogs)
      • frogs
        • Hildebrandtia
        • Phrynomerus
        • Tomopterna
        • Bufo gutturalis (Guttural toad). See Bussičre & Loftie-Eaton (2012) who observed Milvus parasitus (Yellow-billed kite) robbing a Hamerkop of a Guttural toad it had just caught.
    • small fish
      • Amphilus uranoscopus (Stargazer mountain catfish)
      • Barbus
      • Clarias
      • Tilapia
      • goldfish from ornamental fish ponds
    • small mammals
    • eggs and chicks of Vanellus coronatus (Crowned lapwing)
  • Invertebrates


  • Monogamous solitary nester.
  • The nest (see image below) is usually built by both sexes, or rarely a group of up to seven birds, with construction taking anything from 40-43 days to several months. It consists of a uniquely-shaped, large pile of material with an interior chamber and entrance low down on the side. At first, a supporting structure of sticks similar to an inverted pyramid is laid down. The walls are then built by interlocking twigs and finally the whole  structure is covered with stalks, sticks, reeds, grass and twigs, while it often decorates it with a variety of both natural and man-made materials, including cardboard, plastic, leaves, bark, aloe stems and stones and wool. It is typically placed in a tree over or next to water, occasionally on a bridge, dam, wall, house or even on the ground. Other animals often usurp the nest of the Hamerkop, such as bees, reptiles and other birds, including Barn owls and Black sparrowhawks.
Scopus umbretta (Hamerkop)   

Hamerkop nest, Save Conservancy, Zimbabwe. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is almost year-round, peaking from August-September in Zimbabwe and from July-January in South Africa.
  • It lays 3-9 eggs, which are incubated by both adults for about 26-30 days.
  • The chicks leave the nest after 45-50 days and can fly strongly a few days later.


Not threatened, in fact it has probably benefited from the introduction of man-made impoundments.


  • Bussičre E, Loftie-Eaton M. 2012. When a Hamerkop and Yellow-billed Kites fight for a Guttural Toad. Ornithological Observations 3: 125-128. (pdf)

  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.