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.