Wildlife Insight: Hamerkop Social Behaviour

Taken in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia - a rare unexplained social behaviour between hamerkops is caught on camera

Words and photos by Edward Selfe

On a short drive in the bush one morning, in the Luangwa Valley, mainly to check the condition of the local roads and to see which areas were opening up after the rains, I spotted hamerkops in a small group along the edge of a drainage channel. They are often found in groups of 3-10, sharing a feeding source or resting on the only available stump in a fast-flowing stream.

I also know that they have the tendency of performing a strange and, as far as I know, unexplained social bonding behaviour where one bird jumps on the back of another and flaps its wings while calling.

It looks like mating, but no mating takes place, and sometimes a third bird will jump on the back of the second, forming a 3-storey-hamerkop. Clearly, once the 3rd bird is introduced to the situation, with no animosity between any of the birds, mating is not an explanation.

Sure enough, soon after I arrived, one bird jumped onto another and they gave a good show of this unusual behaviour.

This non-copulatory mounting between hamerkops has been reported to occur in all combination of sexes so it seems to be of a social function rather than a sexual, but as of yet there is no conclusive theory as to why this occurs.

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Words and photos by

Edward Selfe

Edward has been a safari guide in the Luangwa Valley since 2009, reflecting his love for the bush, its inhabitants and the pleasure of being immersed in wild places. He runs photographic safaris, combining authentic wildlife experiences with excellent photographic guidance.

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