Sunday, 30 August 2015 05:24

Secretary birds (Sagittarius serpentarius)

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 Secretary birds (Sagittarius serpentarius) Secretary birds (Sagittarius serpentarius) Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy

The movements of one specific Secretary bird, called Taemane (meaning ‘diamond’ in Setswane- and Sotho), were tracked. He was fitted with a tracking device on a farm near Warden in the Free State on 5 April 2013, when he was about 49 days old. Taemane remained in the area of the nest until he was about 114 days old and then visited various parts of the Free State before moving south to the Kwazulu-Natal south coast, then moving inland, and settled on a farm near Ixopo for a few months. From there he moved back to the Free State where he then continued to spend time in the grasslands south of Memel. For more information on this project, please contact Ernst Retief at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 072 223 2160.

Although Secretary birds (Sagittarius serpentarius) can be found across South Africa (therefore also in our area), we cannot remember when last we saw one of these birds, and I thought that I should write an article about them. It will be interesting to know if any of our members/readers have spotted any of the birds in our area. The photo of the Secretary bird was kindly provided by well-known bird photographer, Albert Froneman – Ed.

At a distance, the peculiar shape and long legs render this bird to be confused with a crane. Its unusualness has captured public imagination, and it is incorporated into the South African coat of arms. The body of the Secretary bird is mainly pale grey, belly and upper legs black, tibial feathering, tail bands, rump and crest feathers black. The irises are hazel, bill and cere pale blue-grey, facial skin yellowish orange, legs and feet greyish pink. They are very conspicuous in semi desert, grassland, savannah, open woodland, farmland and on mountain slopes. Usually in pairs or solitary. They breed from August to December. The clutch is normally 2 white or pale bluish-green eggs. Incubation is 45 days and nestling 85 days. Most immature birds move long distances from their nest site and then return to their natal areas after a few months. Their food consists of insects (mainly grasshoppers), rodents, lizards, young birds, eggs, snakes and rabbits.

Sources: Roberts’ Birds of Southern Africa, Gordon Lindsay Maclean, sixth edition, 1993 and information provided by Willie Froneman, Xanadu Nature Estate.

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