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The Hammerkop (Scopus umbretta), about the size of a small egret, is entirely brown, with a robust crest which gives its head a hammer-like appearance. This pronounced head crest makes it unmistakable. The bill is long, laterally compressed, blade-like and tipped with a sharp hook. Its legs are strong and endowed with narrowly webbed toes.

This bird is related to the storks but is different enough to be placed in a separate family (Family Scopidae) of which it is the only member species.

The nest is a giant among nests, among the biggest relative to the bird's size. The entrances are sized so that only the bird has access. Built on the ground and made of sticks, it assumes a dome shape with three chambers. One is a sleeping chamber which is placed highest in the dome to be safe from floods. White eggs are laid in here on a soft bed of aquatic plants whereupon the parents share incubation duties. The middle chamber serves as a second room once the young outgrow the first. The outer chamber or "hall" serves as a lookout post from which the birds can check for danger.

Abandoned nests are frequented by other animals seeking shelter, including other birds, notably birds of prey who lay their own eggs in them.

Hammerkops feed mostly on frogs and tadpoles, and they also take small crustaceans, grasshoppers, and aquatic insects. They often rest during the day and become active at twilight, when they are most often encountered, often alone. They range throughout tropical Africa, Arabia and Madagascar around rivers, pools, shallows of lakes, and riverine forest.

Local people believe that anyone who harms a hammerhead will have misfortune for the rest of their days, and throughout Africa persist numerous legends and stories about the hammerkop.

They are fairly common, especially along the edges of water bodies, though luck is needed to see one.


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