Secretary birds in the Drakensberg

Secretary bird in the Drakensberg

Secretary birds are one of those special bird sightings that really excite people. These birds are huge. They have long legs, large wing span with a long tail. The secretary bird gets its name from its crest of long feathers that look like the quill pens used in the 19th century.

Drakensberg secretary bird

They have black on the wings, thighs and tail feathers, mostly dove-grey in colour. These birds have a large curved bill with bare orange and yellow skin near the beak. The long legs are feathered half way and have the appearance of wearing short pants. The tail feathers are very long. When the bird is standing they can reach a height of approximately 1meter.

Their most distinctive feature is the black crest of feathers that is often described as the old fashioned quill pens. They also have very long eyelashes and large eyes with excellent eyesight, spotting prey from high up in the thermals.
Secretary birds consume snakes, reptiles, insects and other small mammals such as rats and mice.

These birds are mostly terrestrial, taking flight when approached or when in danger, remember to approach quietly using as much cover to hide away to get as close as possible. Usually, this pair will not take fright if you stay in your car, a fair distance away.

They can cover distances of an excess of 15km’s per day. When hunting and they spot their prey, they look like birds in “ballet” as they dance, spreading their wings at the same time offering strong blows to their victim, especially snakes.

They beat their prey with their toes; once the prey has been sufficiently debilitated they tear their victims apart, swallowing large pieces at a time. Secretary birds pair for life. These birds can be heard high up in the thermals, and sound like a deep grunt or hoot.

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