I, for one, am a little annoyed that dinosaurs don’t still walk the Earth.
I can stroll down the street without seeing a single Triceratops or Brachiosaurus, and while that makes me sad, it’s Velociraptor that I really miss. I wish there was a crazy, hip-high, feather-covered predator running around in our time, hunting in packs, literally kickboxing its prey to death left, right and centre, but alas, it’s not to-
That is the Secretary Bird, the feathery MMA champion of the African Savannah.
Standing at up to 1.3m tall (or over 4 feet) it’s immediately recognisable, with long legs like a crane or flamingo, and a head like an eagle. It even has the distinct colouration and black belt that hints at its true nature – it might strut around like a crane, but this is not a dainty fish-eater.
The Secretary Bird eats venomous snakes.
Unusually for a bird of prey, it spends most of the time on the ground, stomping around. This is where its crazily long legs come in useful – they are armoured with heavy scales and long enough to keep the bird’s body out of reach of most of its prey.
The heavy stomping will disturb any hiding creatures, and the bird’s keen eyes will direct its boot straight to them. The Secretary Bird then reenacts its favourite bits of American History X and Fight Club, kicking the prey to death with repeated strikes that land with up to four times the force of the bird’s weight.
That’s like a boxer landing punches at more than a ton of force each, and then eating you afterwards. Or being hunted by predatory telephone poles.
All that isn’t to say that the Secretary Bird can’t fly. Oh no. Like all kung fu movie villains, the Secretary Bird has no problem following you into the air.
The Secretary Bird even takes its “if velociraptors could fly” gimmick to incredible new levels with its truly sinister alternative hunting techniques.
The bird usually hunts in pairs, but can actually form loose “flocks” which move through the undergrowth together, flushing out prey for one another like the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park. These flocks are particularly fond of waiting by the edge of wildfires, where they ambush the panicked creatures fleeing the blaze. The prey are then KO’d and swallowed whole, or lifted into the air and dropped to their deaths.
There are even reports of Secretary Birds attacking young gazelles and cheetah cubs, although these are rare – when you’re as good at your job as the secretary bird, you don’t need to look elsewhere for food.
Despite initially taking well to their loss of habitat, and stalking farmland as if it was savannah, the Secretary Bird is now facing a range of new challenges, and is listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN.
Deforestation of the acacia trees in which it roosts are one main cause of problems, denying the birds their secure nests, but pesticide use, alongside general brush encroachment and desertification of their ranges, have all contributed to a plummet in numbers in recent years.
With the recent announcements concerning Environmental Policy, especially in the US and UK, these threats are not likely to go away, so it’s up to us. The Secretary Bird can’t flying-kick its way out of habitat loss: to protect its ranges and make sure these incredible birds stay on this Earth, we have to do the flying kicks for it.
Not literally, unless you have to.