The Secretarybird – Bird of the Year 2019


Often found in grasslands and open savanna on the hunt for prey, the secretarybird is one of Africa’s most charismatic bird species. Found nowhere else on earth, this unique, eye-catching bird of prey is the perfect nomination for BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year 2019.

As Bird of the Year 2019, the secretarybird will be used to highlight the dramatic deterioration of Africa’s raptor populations, while also raising awareness about several of the threats responsible for this decline. A recent study of secretary birds shows a 78% population decline across Botswana over the past 20 years, and a 70% decline in reporting rates across South Africa.

The biggest threat facing secretarybirds and other large terrestrial birds is habitat loss. Development and transformation of natural environments into agricultural fields, plantations, mines and buildings make the areas unsuitable for open-habitat species, like the secretarybird.

Image by Melissa Whitecross

Secretarybirds are able to coexist with landowners who farm domestic livestock and wild game if landowners manage their land in a way that provides space for biodiversity. Correctly managing bush encroachment – an increase in the density of woody plants that prevents open habitat species from accessing the area – will assist secretarybirds as well as other threatened large terrestrial birds.

The ‘BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year‘ title dates back to 2007 and birds that have enjoyed the designation include the African penguin (2007), barn swallow (2011), blue crane (2015) and the lappet-faced vulture (2017). In 2018, the African black oystercatcher was used to promote a #ShareTheShores mentality among beachgoers in the Western and Eastern Cape.

Secretarybirds are endemic to the grasslands and open savannas of sub-Saharan Africa. Their long legs enable them to cover large distances in search of prey, such as rodents and reptiles. The birds build large nests in the tops of thorn trees or dense bushes and breed year-round in southern Africa.

BirdLife South Africa keeps a database of secretary bird nest locations, so if you find one please email

Written by Melissa Whitecross, threatened species project manager at BirdLife South Africa

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