Sometimes stalking the shallows doesn’t turn up a meal fast enough. Is that what inspired this hamerkop to try fishing in flight? Amateur photographer Gerhard Geldenhuys shares images of this surprise sighting.

The hamerkop, named for its tool-shaped head, is usually seen along the fringes of dams and rivers, walking in shallow water in search of fish, insects or amphibians. So imagine amateur photographer Gerhard Geldenhuys’s astonishment when he saw a hamerkop catch a fish in flight.

Whenever Gerhard and his wife visit the Kruger National Park in their motorhome, they spend many hours next to Sunset Dam. It was on one of these visits that he captured the hamerkop’s strange hunting behaviour.

“We noticed how the hamerkop flew over the water and then appeared on the water’s edge with a fish in its bill. Only after close observation did we realise how quickly the bird managed to pick up fish amongst the crocodiles – also after some of the fish for themselves.

“You normally see these birds walking at the water’s edge picking up tiny fish, frogs and insects. It was the first time that we’d witnessed the hamerkop snatch up a fish in flight,” explains Gerhard.

Gerhard captured the sequence with a Nikon D800 on ISO 220, using F6.3 and a 1/800 second shutter speed to focus in on the action.

Although the hamerkop was unsuccessful at first, the second attempt proved rewarding.

Hamerkop fishing skills-Kruger Ntional Park-Gerhard Geldenhuys-1

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Flying low over the water, the bird spots its prey and plunges its bill into the water to snatch up the fish. Notice how the bird’s feet are skimming the water.

Hamerkop fishing skills-Kruger Ntional Park-Gerhard Geldenhuys-3

The hamerkop has clamped the fish in its bill and is lifting it out of the water.

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As the bird straightens out its body and heads for shore, another hungry animal is patiently waiting in the forefront. Can you spot the crocodile?

Hamerkop fishing skills-Kruger Ntional Park-Gerhard Geldenhuys-5

But the hamerkop’s first attempt proves unsuccessful when the little fish wriggles out of the bird’s bill.

Hamerkop fishing skills-Kruger Ntional Park-Gerhard Geldenhuys-6

If at first you don’t succeed … The hamerkop is lucky enough to spot another fish and this time the bird seems even more determined to put food on the table.

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You’re not going anywhere!

Hamerkop fishing skills-Kruger Ntional Park-Gerhard Geldenhuys-9

With its prize firmly in its bill, the hamerkop flies to the dam’s shore to enjoy its meal.

A word from the experts

Wild got in touch with three expert birders to find out just how unusual this way of hunting is and whether the hamerkop was running a risk in feeding among the crocodiles:

Albert Froneman: “Pretty amazing. I have seen them perch on the back of hippos – especially at Sunset Dam – and hunt from there. I have witnessed small crocs hunting little birds, so I am sure that if the opportunity arises the croc will snatch the hamerkop up. I suspect the croc was also attracted to the fish feeding frenzy and was trying to take advantage of the same food resource as the hamerkop.”

Niall Perrins: “Hamerkops seem to forage in a wide variety of ways. Great sequence of shots! They seem pretty fearless – records of them stealing scraps from lion kills and fish eagles. From this photo it looks like they want to share the croc’s spoils, rather than be his dinner. I would imagine they would be too quick for a croc, but you never know.”

Dylan Vasapolli: “This is quite interesting. I recently spent a week at Mapungubwe and noticed the same behaviour. I have not spent a lot of time with hamerkops before, so can’t say with certainty that this is not unusual. The big Roberts VII mentions that this technique is one of their regular feeding techniques they employ, so while it is a great set of images documenting an interesting hunting strategy, it is not unusual.”

Have you seen a hamerkop fish in flight? Let us know in the comments below.