Back a few years ago while I was traveling through India, I took so many photos of birds that one of my fellow travelers declared I was the “Bird Girl.” I took it as a compliment. Yet it was only a short while ago that I became an avid bird watcher and photographer BEGINNING during my hiking trip to Peru in 2015.
However, once started I have gone forward full blast and have seen hundreds of different species, and still I am astounded by the diversity and sometime strangeness of these very specialized creatures. Let me share some of them with you.
This first installment all hail from Africa where I spend over two weeks marveling at simply every second – the landscapes, the wildlife, the sunrise and sunsets, the cultures, and on and on – and then there are the birds. These three had one big thing in common – their outsized bills.
HORNBILLS – These birds have a long, down-curved bill which is often brightly-coloured and sometimes has a helmet shaped casque on top. Hornbills are the only birds that have the first two neck vertebrae fused together, providing more stability for carrying the bill.
Hornbills feed on fruit and small animals, but they can’t swallow food if it is at the tip of the beak for their tongues are too short. Instead, they toss it back to the throat with a jerk of the head, similar to toucans.. Incidentally these two bird species are not related despite the similar looks:
HAMMERKOP – When I took the photo at the top of this post I thought the hammerkop looked like they had just emerged from the Jurassic era. Indeed their heads do like hammers, as their name implies.
They are also the smallest African stork. and are known for their three tier townhouse styled nests.:
The nest is up to 6 ft.high, 6 ft. wide, and can weigh (55 to 110 lbs. It is constructed of sticks, reeds, grass, plant stems placed either in a tree fork, a cliff or on the ground. It takes the hammerkop up to 4 months to build and after they are gone the nests are squatted by owls, geese, ducks and kestrels.
The hammerkop has a cousin who is HUGE – the shoebill stork.
SHOEBILL STORK – This is the colossus of storks – at up to 5 feet tall, and an over 8 foot wingspan. Other fun facts:
- habitat in Eastern Africa Nile watershed wetlands
- can stand motionless for hours waiting for prey
- prey includes lungfish, eels, catfish, lizards, snakes and even baby crocodiles
- edges of its bill are so sharp it can decapitate prey, which the shoebill does to make it easier to swallow
- there is debate whether the shoebill is a stork or more closely related to the pelican, ibis and heron species
- it does share the somewhat gross stork habit of pooping on their own feet to cool themselves off.
- they can be quite fierce and administer a sharp bite – so not recommended to get to close – did I mention they are enormous?
More to come!