Lake Victoria’s Feathered Clown
By Awake! correspondent in Kenya
OUR boat is skimming along the placid waters of Lake Victoria when suddenly it comes into view. There, wedged into the main fork of an old tree overhanging the lake, is a huge bird’s nest. It measures over six feet [1.8 m] in diameter—large enough to evoke fear that some pterodactyllike creature must surely inhabit this nest.
Nevertheless, determined to see the nest, we tie our boat to a large rock near the base of the massive tree, and all of us climb up to the fork for a closer look. All, that is, except our boat driver. The lake people avoid any contact with it whatsoever. Even its name sounds ominous—hammerkop!
As we approach the nest, we see that it is unlike any nest we have ever seen. It takes a male and a female hammerkop from three to four days of feverish work just to lay the “foundation” of their home—a rather loosely constructed, saucer-shaped platform. It consists of reeds, sticks, and straw. When this stage of construction is finished, they build up the walls all around and then start on the roof from the back. When the roof is half built, the female makes herself at home. She will stay in the nest while the male hunts for more building material.
After the front porch is completed, they apply a mud lining to it and to the inside chamber. Various loose materials are then added to the sides and roof to help make the nest waterproof and warm. Finally, their home is “decorated.” Tin cans, snake skins, rags—really anything the male can find—are added to the top of the nest. The whole project takes five or six weeks.
Our nest inspection completed, we climb back in the boat and wait. It isn’t long before a hammerkop makes his grand appearance, landing right on the roof. But to our surprise, this is not a giant bird. It is but 22 inches [56 cm] long, dusky brown, and quite ordinary in appearance. Except for its head, that is. A heavy bill and a large crest at the back give it the appearance of the head of a claw hammer. Hence its name hammerkop.
The hammerkop soon begins the routine that has earned him his reputation as a feathered clown. He utters a high-pitched cackle and begins to dance and jump around. Suddenly his mate appears and joins him by jumping on his back and joining in the insane choreography. The bird’s routine is not finished, however. Now he swoops down from his lakeside mansion and alights on the back of a sleeping hippo. When the hippo moves, the muddy lake bottom is disturbed. Startled frogs swim to the surface—only to be snatched up by the hammerkop. Small fish, worms, insects, and crustaceans are also on hammerkop’s menu.
Whether you call him a clown or a master builder, hammerkop is fascinating—another example of the limitless imagination of our Creator.
[Picture on page 31]
The hammerkop and his nest