[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:
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.)
And here is an image of a phoenix from a book by Joachim Camerarius (1534-1598), surely inspired by a Secretarybird!
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.
This is a great video of that stomping kick in action:
Its beak makes short work of snakes, mice, lizards young birds, and of course insects.
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: