July 2021

Winter, a time of plenty for the Hammerkop

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Winter, a time of plenty for the Hammerkop

Marc Bowes-Taylor
By Marc Bowes-Taylor
Field Guide

The African winter certainly comes with its hardships for many as water diminishes and greens turn to dull browns. For some, however, the opportunity is far greater than that of the summer months. 

As waterways shrink, so the life that lurks within it are limited to where they can find food and shelter. For those birds that feed on fish, frogs and molluscs this is the time of plenty. Pools are separated from flowing channels creating ideal hunting traps as fish have nowhere to go and eventually are picked off by a variety of birds, from kingfishers, storks, herons and in this case hammerkops. 

On this particular morning it was a group of five hammerkops that seemed to have lucked out by having a few still standing pools mostly to themselves. Pied kingfishers hovered above picking off mostly smaller fish, while hammerkops waded the shallows for anything that moved.

Hammerkops can be found somewhere close to the bottom of the pecking order when among herons, storks and even some egrets, but not today, the spoils were theirs! One bird grabbed my attention immediately as it flew from rock to rock with intent to find a meal. Suddenly he dashed to the bank and made a desperate lunge into the shallows. Success!

The hammerkop had done rather well for himself by securing a fairly large catfish in proportion to its body. 

Hungry Hammerkop

Now what?!

Next was to kill it. The beak of the hammerkop is not designed for a swift
death but rather more versatility in its diet. They kill a fish by knocking it on a surface of a hard object like a rock or log.

The bird had to toss the fish in its beak to gain better grip and repeatedly use the rock as its killing aid.

Hungry Hammerkop


The catfish had plenty of fight in it but the determination of the hungry hammerkop was too
much for the bottom feeder. Eventually the bird swallowed the large meal. A days fishing dubbed a success.