The newest construction site at the Detroit Zoo is highly visible – and visitors have to look up high to see it. The Zoo’s pair of hamerkops – an African wading bird – has assembled a mansion-sized nest in the Matilda Wilson Free-flight Aviary.
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With both the male and female hamerkops on the construction crew, the duo spent about nine weeks building the nest, which measures approximately 6 feet by 4 feet. Using sticks, grass, mud and palm fronds, they have created a sturdy home in which to lay eggs.
--Hamerkop nest at the Detroit Zoo
"The nest incorporates man-made objects as well as nesting material we offered the birds, including mud to line the inside of their nest," said Detroit Zoological Society Curator of Birds Tom Schneider.
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According to bird care staff, the hamerkops laid out materials around the fork of the tree then continued to build the nest foundation, raised the walls, and used heavier sticks to create the roof and construct an opening. The last step was to line the interior with the mud provided. "For bird enthusiasts, the nest may be the perfect place to look for other bird species that have been hanging around just out of curiosity or trying to steal nesting material," said Schneider.
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In the wild, a hamerkop nest can weigh up to 200 pounds and is strong enough to support the weight of an average human. The birds will build numerous nests even though they use only one, leaving the extra nests as refuge for other birds.
The hamerkop (Scopus umbretta) is a long-legged wading bird that stands about 22 inches tall. It has sepia-brown plumage with an iridescent purple gloss on the back and darker brown bars on the tail. The female lays three to six eggs at a time, followed by a 30-day incubation and a 45-day period of development before fledging.
Detroit Zoo visitors can see the hamerkop nest in the Free-flight Aviary during regular Zoo hours. Located in the Wildlife Interpretive Gallery, the habitat is home to 30 species of birds that are free to fly, walk or swim among the cover of natural tropical plants in a warm, inviting climate.