A living breathing phoenix

[We are sort of moved in to our new flat, but I am not yet organized enough to write a new post.  This was was written a few weeks ago  after I got back from Kenya, and has been waiting in the wings, so to speak.]

I always thought the phoenix was a mythological bird, but I have just met one.

The Secretarybird is a most unusual bird of prey. It is a terrestrial raptor, and it is in a family all on its own, the Sagittaridae (my star sign). Widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, it is a large bird up to 1.3m (4 feet) high, enabling  it to hunt in the long grass:

DSC07390

Although mainly terrestrial, it roosts and nests on the top of acacia trees, and flies up when disturbed: you can just glimpse the very long stiff central tail feathers (and I learnt a new word in researching this: they are called retrices.)

DSC07380

And here is an image of a phoenix from a book by Joachim Camerarius (1534-1598), surely inspired by a Secretarybird!

cam400

The Secretarybird’s scientific name, Sagittarius serpentarius, alludes to one of its favorite foods, snakes, which it kills by stomping them with its powerful long lower limbs.

Secretarybird

This is a great video of that stomping kick in action:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/video/secretary-bird-stomps-snakes-with-a-killer-kick/

Its beak makes short work of snakes, mice, lizards young birds, and of course insects.

Secretarybird

The name Secretarybird may have come from the long dark feathers on the back of the head, which apparently reminded 18th century scholars of the quill pens that (male) secretaries put behind their ears. I prefer to think of this magnificent bird as being a Secretary of State, a holder of high office, rather than a lowly office worker. It is the national emblem of Sudan:

 

500px-Emblem_of_Sudan.svg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s