Lightning Bird

Hamerkop in flight. Camp Moremi. Gerald HobermanHamerkop in flight. Camp Moremi. Gerald Hoberman
The Hamerkop, also known as the Lightning Bird, is one of Africa's most fascinating species and the subject of many traditional beliefs amongst the people of Africa.

One of a Kind

Known as the Lightning Bird for the belief in some cultures that people who tamper with its nest will be struck by lightning, the Hamerkop is certainly one of the strangest looking birds in Africa. The Hamerkop is the only species in the family Scopidae and is the subject of many beliefs throughout Africa.

Source of myths and legend

The nest of the Hamerkop is the source of many of the myths surrounding the bird. The main chamber is 30 - 60 cm in diameter with an appr 50 cm tunnel leading out to the least accessible side of the nest. The shell of the nest is constantly added to and is made up of sticks, leaves and even plastic. Some nests can weigh up to 200 kg and can take months to build. The nest is often used by snakes, owls and monitor lizards - all creatures that are feared by many African peoples - and this adds to the beliefs surrounding the bird.

Death and other beliefs

It is believed by some African people that if a Hamerkop flies over your home, the abode has to burnt down or bad luck will follow. It is also believed by some that if a Hamerkop calls in the evening someone will pass away during the night.

The white-water rafting guides on the Zambezi River will scream and shout and wave their arms when a hamerkop approaches the rafts. This is to chase the bird from its flight path so that it does not fly over the rafts and bring bad luck. Farmers in parts of South Africa believed that if a hamerkop flew upriver calling, then there would be goods rains to follow.

Feeding in the shallows

The hamerkop feeds predominantly on tadpoles and adult frogs, fish and some insects. They hunt by moving through pools and stirring up mud with their feet.
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