The skilled hunter

Secretary bird caught two lizards in quick succession

In Summary

• It latches with its talons and repeatedly stamps on the prey until it is dead

Secretary bird flight
Secretary bird flight

It was late in the afternoon as I entered the East Gate, as the weather was fairly gloomy and cloudy. I had not prepared my camera to be ready for any natural event. As I drove along, suddenly, a flash of grey movement appeared on my left. It was a large, magnificent secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius), and it was hunting. I dived down to prepare my camera for the action.

The bird moved quickly and jumped into an acacia tree to dislodge an agama lizard with its talons. It then repeatedly stamped on the fateful lizard until it was dead. In a swift movement, the lizard was lifted in its beak and flicked upward into its open mouth, and quickly swallowed.

Wow! What a sighting. Then, just as I was about to drive away, the bird continued to hunt, and within minutes had found another smaller lizard, and repeated the same hunting technique with practised skill. After consuming that lizard, the secretary bird walked away into the acacia shrub, leaving me really impressed at this highly skilled hunter.

The secretary bird’s name is popularly thought to derive from the crest of long quill-like feathers, lending the bird the appearance of a secretary with quill pens tucked behind the ear, as was once common human practice. A more recent hypothesis is that "secretary" is borrowed from a French corruption of the Arabic “saqr-et-tair” or hunter-bird.

Their range is widespread over sub-Saharan Africa, and prey may range from insects to mice, hares, mongoose, crabs, lizards, snakes, tortoises, young birds and bird eggs.

So next time you are out in the bush and do see a secretary bird, stop for a while. They are always very rewarding to watch. 

The park is open daily from 06h00 to 19h00.

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