Secretary Bird: Will deforestation bring their demise?
Deforestation may drive the demise of this elegant and esteemed bird of prey—which resembles a cross between an eagle and a crane. Admired in Africa for many reasons, including the fact that they eat snakes and other pests, secretarybird populations are rapidly declining—disappearing entirely in some areas, as their habitat continues to shrink due to farming, logging and housing development.
How Nikela Helps
Although Nikela does not have a project that directly protects the Secretary Birds many awareness campaigns address the plight of Africa’s endangered and threatened wildlife species as a whole. Actually Nikela is for preserving all wild things and their wild places.
Facts about the Secretary Bird
Distribution & habitat
The secretarybird is usually found in the open grasslands and savannah of the sub-Saharan region of Africa. Although they can fly, they spend most of the day walking the land in search of prey. At night they return to roost in their Acacia tree nests.
With its upright stance, thrusting tail feathers, and distinctive plumage springing from the back of its head, the secretarybird’s profile has the air of a regal 17th century statesman—and in fact, its stately silhouette graces the coat of arms for South Africa and is a national emblem of Sudan. Its large, chocolate brown eyes are encircled by bright, blood-orange skin, creating a striking contrast against black, white, and gray feathers. Long, thin bare legs belie their strength—which are strong enough to shatter a human hand with one kick. Although it’s a relative of the vulture and can fly, it often prefers to walk.
Unlike most birds of prey, secretarybirds hunt on foot rather than from the air. They target insects, small mammals such as mice or rabbits, mongoose, crabs, lizards, snakes, tortoises, young birds and bird eggs, and sometimes dead animals.
Behaviour and socialization
Male and female secretarybirds court each other, performing an expressive “dance” either in the air or on the ground and croaking at each other. They mate on the ground, build a nest together in an Acacia tree, and the female lays two to three eggs. Eggs hatch after 45 days and the hatchlings can feed on their own at 40 days of age. The young begin to flap their wings at three months and learn to fly at 65-80 days, by jumping from the nest or through a semi-controlled fall. Both parents care for their young and even after their offspring leave the nest, the couple remain loyal to each other.
Conservation status and threats
Classified by the IUCN as Threatened, the secretarybird is jeopardized by deforestation and loss of habitat. As a population, they were protected under the Africa Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 1968. Young secretarybirds are preyed upon by crows, ravens, owls and other large birds.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Margrita Colabuno