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Hamerkop chicks have taken flight at Franklin Park Zoo

HammerkopVisitors to Franklin Park Zoo’s Tropical Forest will notice three new feathered faces as the hamerkop chicks, estimated to have hatched 50-60 days ago, have recently left their nest.

These hatches are significant as they mark the first hamerkop hatches at Franklin Park Zoo in 24 years. Franklin Park Zoo has a long history of breeding these distinct birds.

In 1979, Franklin Park Zoo was the first zoo in North America to have a successful hatch. Since that time, 73 hamerkops, including the new chicks, have hatched at Franklin Park Zoo.

“We are thrilled to share the news of these exciting hatches. Typically, chicks leave the nest after 50 days so we have been keeping a close watch on the nest in anticipation,” said Frederick Beall, Zoo New England General Curator. “The young birds have been doing well exploring the Tropical Forest and acclimating to their surroundings outside of their large, domed nest.”

Hamerkops, named for their distinctive hammer-shaped heads, build the largest domed nests of any bird. These massive nests can weigh up to 55 pounds and are comprised of any available vegetation along with any colorful decorative material. Accessible only by a small, narrow entrance hole, the birds fly straight into their nests. In the wild, the nests attract a wide array of other wildlife who will either push the hamerkops out of their nest or take up residence after the birds have left.

Inside the Tropical Forest, visitors can see the large hamerkop nest above the pygmy hippopotamus exhibit (pictured here).

While anatomically hamerkops share characteristics with both storks and herons, due to their unique attributes these distinct birds are placed in their own family – the Scopidae. Hamerkops, the subject of many myths, are plentiful across sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar, and as long as there is access to water they can be found in a range of habitats including forests, savannahs and semi-deserts.

These wading birds forage for food, mainly frogs and fish, in shallow water. When looking for fish, they spread their wings creating an umbrella effect to attract and more easily catch fish.

Photos courtesy of Roisin Morgan and Sarah Woodruff