BirdLife South Africa has selected the secretarybird, Sagittarius serpentarius, as 2019 Bird of the Year. This charismatic, long-legged, bird of prey has blue-grey feathers over most of its body, bare orange skin around its eyes and long black quill feathers forming a crest, on the back of its head.

Secretarybirds have been listed ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List since 2011 with large declines in their available habitat, and the numbers of birds seen across Africa. The biggest threat they face is loss of habitat, while they are also susceptible to collisions with electrical infrastructure and fence lines.

Secretarybirds, endemic to the grasslands and open savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, are found nowhere else on the planet. Their long legs make it possible for them to walk distances of up to 30km a day in search of prey. Secretary birds kill their prey by repeated application of forceful, downward blows with their feet before swallowing the prey whole or tearing off pieces with their sharp beaks. The force of the secretarybird kicks is measured at five times the mass of the bird itself and the kick is delivered with pin-point accuracy. Prey species include rodents, birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles. They also eat eggs.

Secretarybirds build large nests in the tops of thorn trees, or dense bushes, and breed year-round in southern Africa. Both parents build the nest by carrying sticks and fresh vegetation to line it just before the eggs are laid. The female does most of the incubation and is fed by the male during this time. Secretarybirds lay between one and three eggs. Siblings do not show any aggression towards one another and if conditions are good, and food is available, it is likely that all the chicks will fledge successfully. Both adults feed the chicks by regurgitating prey stored in their crops during hunting.

BirdLife South Africa keeps a database of Secretarybird nest locations, so if you find one, contact BirldLife South Africa.

BirdLife South Africa in collaboration with Chrissie Cloete (chrissiecandraw), and with funding from the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, are in the process of developing a series of educational tools and lesson plans which will be available for free download throughout the year (below). Chrissie has created ‘Strider’ a beautiful caricature of the Secretarybird who will be guiding learners and teaching them about the conservation and life cycle of Secretarybirds.

BirdLife South Africa have also produced pin badges and plush toy replicas of the Secretarybird which will be available through our shop at our head office, Isdell House, in Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, South Africa.

For more information about BirdLife South Africa, visit www.birdlife.org.za and follow them on social media @BirdLife_SA on twitter and BirdLife South Africa on Facebook. – BirdLife SA

Click here to read more on the Secretarybird. 

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