These boots are made for walking.......

Posted on Sat May 12, 2018.

They are unique to Africa, and no other bird of prey looks or hunts like they do, purposefully striding across the veld in search of prey - insects,rats and mice, small birds and reptiles especially snakes, hence the name "serpentarius" With large strides they rapidly cover vast areas of grassland, when they do find something there is a flurry of excitement and activity, much stomping with wings raised and then the moment of success.

  

Standing 1.2 metres tall with a wingspan of over 2 metres and weighing in at over 3 kilograms, they also have possibly the longest tail of any bird, thus the Secretary Bird makes flying an easy exercise. A short run or leap and then ‘lift-off”. Those huge wings act as sails as they ride the thermals and reach great heights, we have seen them way above 3000 metres high over the Maluti Mountains in Lesotho, then away they cruise until just dots in the sky. 

Long unfeathered legs covered with a hard skin protect them from snake bite, they hunt by walking through the grass disturbing prey which they kill by stomping and kicking before using their sharp beak. 

The sight of these huge birds excites one and all, their tell tale long nape feathers looking for all the world like "pencils behind the ear"  hence the name of Secretary, these are often raised into a crest when greeting or hunting .

They are unique to Africa, and no other bird of prey looks or hunts like they do, purposefully striding across the veld in search of prey - insects,rats and mice, small birds and reptiles especially snakes, hence the name "serpentarius"  With large strides they rapidly cover vast areas of grassland, when they do find something there is a flurry of excitement and activity, much stomping with wings raised and then the moment of success. 

 

The nest site is preferably atop a small thorn tree but here at Amohela ho Spitskop we don’t have any so they make do with a tall conifer …and we have a registered nest site just behind the koppie.

It is wonderful to watch them at sunrise when they stand on the top branches and greeting the sun's warmth they perform a ritual of preening and stretching in readiness for a busy day of hunting, for all the world as if they are doing morning yoga exercises.

We often have at least a pair of birds here, and sometimes even 3 or 4. Occasionally a pair of adults will bring an immature or juvenile with them, Amohela ho Spitskop Conservancy is indeed fortunate to have such close and relaxed encounters, the birds have now become semi-resident. Year after year they reappear at the nest site.

Rarely seen and even less photographed is the Secretary Bird mating ritual dance.

These wonderful birds are now classed as Vulnerable and their numbers are in decline due to loss of habitat with large areas of what was previously grassland now being used for agriculture, livestock grazing and human encroachment. They more than deserve our help and as for many other species it is vital that we must preserve more areas of unspoiled grassland, native plants and wild flowers, as we have done here at The Amohela ho Spitskop Registered Conservancy,  where the natural balance can be restored. It would be a tragedy if we were to lose the enigmatic Secretary Bird. 

 

                                                      Sagittarius serpentarius long may you thrive. 

 

The Secretary Bird appears on the South African Coat of Arms and symbolises    "Protector of the nation".

                                The Secretary bird is a messenger from heaven bringing grace to Earth.