Tag Archives: Secretarybird

Summertide Diary: Exploring Mountain Zebra (part one)

1 January 2021

As soon as the gates opened on New Year’s Day we headed for the Rooiplaat Loop, the sightings board at reception having indicated that Lions and Cheetahs were seen there the previous day. And we did not wait long – right where the road skirts the Park’s boundary fence we came across a big male lion, known as Nomad, patrolling his territory.

We supposed that it was the proximity of the big predator that made these Black Wildebeest so jittery!

It’s early morning in the Mountain Zebra National Park and there’s so much to be seen!

It was on the link road between Rooiplaat and Ubejane Loops that we happened upon these cute little Bat-eared Fox pups and their elders. More photos of them tomorrow!

Bat-eared Fox pups

Along the main road, between the two junctions with the Ubejane Loop, we saw this pair of unusually tolerant Secretarybirds – they’re normally quite nervous and move away from the road the moment a vehicle approaches, so this was a great opportunity to watch them in action.

At the southern junction of Ubejane Loop with the main road there’s a small earth dam filled with rainwater. By the time we arrived there at mid-morning Cape Mountain Zebra families were arriving from all corners, along with some other wildlife, to slake their thirst and it was wonderful to watch their social interactions before heading back to camp.

Back at camp there was time to kill either side of lunchtime, and thankfully there’s very much of interest around the accommodation and camping area.

Our route for the afternoon would first take us into the mountains along the Kranskop Loop before taking another jaunt around the Rooiplaat Loop.

A real highlight of our afternoon drive was an encounter with a group of three Cheetahs – one adult and two youngsters – on the Rooiplaat Plateau, just half-an-hour before we had to be back in camp.


We posted a special feature about Mountain Zebra National Park following a previous visit, if you’d like to learn more about this special destination.

Map of Mountain Zebra National Park from the SANParks website (https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/mountain_zebra/mznp-map.jpg)


Rooney the Secretary Bird

Rooney the Secretary Bird was snatched from his nest as a chick, with the intention to be raised to adulthood and then killed for his body parts to be used in superstitious rituals. Thankfully the authorities could confiscate him before these cruel plans were brought to fruition and he now resides at the Dullstroom Bird of Prey and Rehabilitation Centre. Being imprinted on humans, Rooney wants nothing to do with other secretary birds and cannot be released back into the wild. If you are a sports lover Rooney’s name will quickly make sense to you when you see his powerful kicks (though he directs these to the head of a rubber-cobra rather than a football).

As a registered NGO receiving no government support, the Dullstroom Bird of Prey and Rehabilitation Centre relies heavily on donors, sponsors and the visiting public to fund their very important work. Their tiny staff compliment is responsible for the rehabilitation of between 80 and 200 birds of prey every year, all of them injured by or negatively impacted in another way by humans, and then releasing them back into the wild when they’ve recovered sufficiently. If you can’t visit them in person, please visit their website and, if you are able to, assist them in their efforts by making a donation (monetary or in kind).

Nest Building Secretarybirds

A pair of Secretarybirds had just started building their platform-nest on top of a small tree near the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park’s Cengeni Gate when we visited in December. It was quite interesting to watch them searching the surrounding area for sticks and twigs to use in the construction.


Sagittarius serpentarius

The Secretarybird is a very unusual raptor, with a long neck, even longer legs and a bunch of quill-like feathers at the back of its head, like pens behind a secretary’s ear, possibly earning it its name. Another explanation for the name comes from a French corruption of an Arabic word, saqr-et-tair, meaning “hunter bird”, which is a great description of its lifestyle. They are up to 1.5m tall, with a wingspan of over 2 meters and a weight up to 5kg.

Secretarybirds roam savannas, grasslands and semi-deserts, usually singly or in pairs, walking along in search of prey, which ranges from eggs, insects and other invertebrates to small mammals (up to the size of hares), birds, amphibians and reptiles – even large, poisonous snakes – which they immobilise or kill by vigorously stomping on it with their feet. Secretarybirds breed throughout the year, in nests built of sticks atop flat-topped trees. Two to three eggs are laid and incubated mostly by the female for about 45 days, though both parents feed the chicks until they leave the nest at about 80 days old and then are taught how to hunt for themselves. At times they congregate in flocks of up to 50 birds at waterholes, but pairs are monogamous.

A Secretarybird features prominently on the coat of arms of South Africa, and can be found all over the country, although they are not very common and even less so outside the major conservation areas. Even in the Kruger National Park it is thought that the population stands at only about 250 – 300 adult birds. The IUCN considers them “Vulnerable” as their populations have declined severely, mostly due to habitat loss and hunting for traditional medicine (the belief being that their ground-up bones confers respect, power and fearlessness).