By Peter Millin
“I imagine almost everybody knows and can identify a Hamerkop (I Thek wane in Zulu and Masionoke in Sesotho). I suppose another Hamerkop would see beauty in him, but with his large bill, dull brown colouring and an unusual head shaped rather like a hammer I do not recognize his ‘beauty’, though he does exhibit a certain dignity as he stands near shallow water hunting for frogs and things Hamerkops like to eat.
In some quarters it is believed that as he gazes into the water he can see reflections of people who are going to die. He then flies over the house of the doomed person emitting his call three times. The Hamerkop, therefore, is often seen as a ‘Messenger of Death’.
He is also associated with lightening and if he should land in a village it seems likely that lightening will follow. He is regarded with great suspicion and should never be killed or his nest robbed otherwise goodness knows what might happen! Hamerkop (I have not come across a common English name for him) is the only species in the family Scopidae.
He is usually on his own seeking food alongside shallow waters. Sometimes you will see him flying overhead away from water. He builds a very large dome shaped nest in a large tree or on a cliff face and the nest has a small opening on the side as an entrance. One wonders why a bird the size of a fowl needs such a large nest. Other birds and even snakes may make their homes in his nest. Hamerkops are fairly common in and around Clarens but one needs to sit and watch near water to see him. The Clarens Golf Course is quite a good spotting place.”