Bird of the Year 2019 – Secretarybird

Sagittarius serpentarius

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.

Help us keep track of South Africa’s Secretarybirds this year! Sign up for the BIrdLasser Secretarybird Challenge by emailing See the current map at

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.

Downloadable Content

Every year BirdLife South Africa produces a poster about the Bird of the Year that is full of interesting facts about the species. See this year’s poster below. It is available in a copy of African Birdlife or by contacting BirdLife South Africa’s head office


Lesson Plans

Find your first Lesson Plan below. Watch this space as more interactive and fun lesson plans are currently under development and will be available for download soon!

To subscribe to updates about lesson plan launches please email

Secretary Bird opt 1

Unique behaviours of Secretarybirds

Emailer 6 cover image

Flagship species of the grassland

Fact Sheets

Find your first Fact Sheet below. Watch this space as more fact sheets are currently under development and will be available for download soon!

To subscribe to updates about fact sheet launches please email

Hunting facts about Secretarybirds

Hunting behaviour and diet

Threats to Secretarybirds

The flagship species for the grassland

 Colouring Pictures

Chrissie Cloete is creating beautiful colouring pages just for you! They will be available for download below.


Chrissie Cloete is creating beautiful colouring pages just for you! They will be available for download below.

Previous Birds of the Year

BirdLife South Africa has chosen the near-endemic African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini as the Bird of the Year for 2018. The African Black Oystercatcher is a modern-day conservation success story with its population having dramatically increased over the last few decades, leading to its regional red listing status being downgraded from Near Threatened in 2000 to Least Concern in 2015.

Although numbers are on the rise, the African Black Oystercatcher still faces some challenges, especially where it breeds in or near urban centres. The biggest threats include continued habitat loss due to coastal development, and disturbance of breeding birds by beach visitors and their dogs.

A proactive intervention and awareness programme by the Nature’s Valley Trust, in collaboration with BirdLife South Africa, is addressing some of these issues and enabling people to #ShareTheShores with these iconic birds.

BirdLife South Africa in collaboration with the Nature’s Valley Trust and Chrissie Cloete (chrissiecandraw), and with funding from the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust and Hawarden Trust, have developed a series of educational tools and lesson plans which are available for download (below).

Downloadable Content

Lesson Plans

Conservation Efforts of Oystercatchers

 Beach Ecology and Shorebirds

Life History of Oystercatchers

Threats to Oystercatchers

 Colouring Pictures


  • 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