Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) standing on river's edge

Photo Details: This hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) was standing motionless on the river’s edge when, without warning, another one flew in and landed on its back (below), where it remained for a few moments with wings outstretched before flying off again.

Hamerkop pair false mounting

I’d never seen such behavior before and my travelling companions (we were in the Kruger National Park in South Africa) suggested the pair were simply doing what comes naturally to the birds and the bees.

Further research, however, indicates this was not the real thing, but rather a strange hamerkop ritual known as “false mounting”, where one bird lands on the back of another as if intending to mate, but in fact just stands there, beating its wings and calling. (I’m not quite sure what the human equivalent would be!)

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Canon Rebel XSi 12.2MP); Lens: Canon EF70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM; Aperture: f/8; ISO: 400

Additional Info: The Hamerkop — also known as Hammerkop or Anvilhead — is a sepia-colored, medium-sized wading bird (56cm long) found throughout sub-saharan Africa and Madagascar. The prominent crest at the back of its head, coupled with the large bill, is reminiscent of a hammer, hence its name.

A hamerkop’s diet consists of insects, frogs, tadpoles, crustacea and even small mammals. Its method of feeding is to shuffle one foot or stamp in the mud and pounce on what it disturbs.

Despite its rather ungainly appearance on land, when in flight it resembles a bird of prey, but is distinguishable by its long legs which extend beyond its tail.

The hamerkop’s nest is a work of labor and ingenuity that can take up to six months to build. Roberts Birds of Africa describes the nest as “an accumulation of sticks, reed stems and any sort of rubbish it fancies, such as old clothing, bits of leather, skin, bone and a fair quantity of grass on occasion — formed into a hollow dome, with an entrance situated below in such a way that it cannot be reached by human and other marauders”.

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