BirdLife South Africa has selected the Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius as the Bird of the Year for 2019. 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 that form a crest on the back of its head. Secretarybirds have been listed as ‘Vulnerable’ by 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 also being susceptible to collisions with electrical infrastructure and fence lines.
Secretarybirds are endemic to the grasslands and open savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, meaning they are found nowhere else on the planet. Their long legs enable them to walk large distances (up to 30 km per day) in search of prey. Once prey is found, Secretarybirds will kick at it repeatedly with high-force, downward blows of their feet to kill the animal before either swallowing it whole or tearing off pieces using its sharp beak. The force of these kicks is measured at five times the mass of the Secretarybird itself and the kick is delivered with pin-point accuracy. Prey include rodents, birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles and 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 to three eggs. Siblings do not show any aggression to each other and if conditions are good, with high quantities of food available, it is likely that all of the chicks will fledge successfully. Both adults feed the chicks by regurgitating prey stored in their crops while hunting. BirdLife South Africa keeps a database of Secretarybird nest locations, so if you find one please let us know.
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 throughout the year 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.
BirdLife South Africa has partnered with BirdLasser, a user-friendly app which allows birders to easily capture the location, date and time of a Secretarybird sighting. All of this information assists our conservation team to understand where South Africa’s Secretarybirds are surviving and where we should focus our efforts to save these incredible birds. Breeding information can also be submitted via the app and is extremely useful as well. To assist with locating South Africa’s Secretarybirds, please send an email to email@example.com and he will add you to the challenge. You can follow the progress of this challenge at www.birdlasser.com/events/secretaryb2019.
Photo credits: Mark Anderson, Warwick Tarboton
2018 - African Black Oystercatcher
2017 - Lappet-Faced Vulture
2016 - Sociable Weaver
2015 - Blue Crane
2014 - Tristan Albatross
2013 - White-winged Flufftail
2012 - African Fish Eagle
2011 - Barn Swallow
2010 - Lesser Flamingo
2009 - Cape Robin-chat
2008 - Spotted Eagle-Owl
2007 - African Penguin
For more information about the Bird of the Year initiative, please email firstname.lastname@example.org