Monday, 25 July 2011


Sagittarius serpentarius

Photo by Stephen Krasemann (Encyclopaedia Britannica)

Common name:

Order Falconiformes
Family Sagittariidae

The secretarybird is found throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal and The Gambia in the west across to Ethiopia in the east, and extending southwards through the eastern African countries into South Africa. They are notably absent from the Namibe desert and from the dense tropical forests around the equator.

These birds are 90-140 cm long and have a wingspan of 180-215 cm. They weigh 2,3-4,3 kg.

The secretarybird prefers open savannas and grasslands with scattered trees and scrubs. They are also found in semi-arid slightly wooded areas, in Acacia thornveld and pastures. They are present from sea level up to an altitude of 3.000 m.

These birds are opportunistic predators, taking a wide variety of prey. The majority of their diet is made up of arthropods, including grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, scorpions and wasps; and small mammals, including mice, rats, hedgehogs, hares and mongooses. Other prey include small and young birds, eggs, amphibians, freshwater crabs, lizards, small tortoises, chameleons and snakes.

Secretarybirds are monogamous and believed to pair for life. They can breed al year round, building a nest out of sticks, creating a large platform on a flat-topped Acacia tree or other thorny bush, and lining it with dry grass and other materials. There the female lays 1-3 chalky-white eggs with reddish-brown streaks. The eggs are incubated by both parents for 42-46 days and. The chicks are fed by both parents and typically only 2 chicks survive. The chicks fledge 64-106 days after hatching but only become fully independent 2-3 months later.

IUCN status - VU (Vulnerable)
Although this species has an extremely large breeding range, the global population of 10.000-100.000 individuals seems to be undergoing a rapid decline in various parts of the range. Although the species may benefit from deforestation, such positive effects may be outweighed by the negative impacts of spreading cultivation and urbanisation. The excessive burning of grasslands may suppress populations of prey species, whilst the intensive grazing of livestock is also probably degrading otherwise suitable habitat. Other threats include human disturbance, illegal capture and trade, direct hunting and indiscriminate poisoning.

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