Willis contributed an earlier account on the mating Ostriches after his October 2010 safari in Kenya, Africa. This time around it is the courtship display of the Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius). The bird is so-called because of the presence of long, black-tipped plumes at the back of the head, reminding one of the pen quills of a 19th century clerk. The bird spends most of the time on the ground but this does not mean that it cannot fly. It does and even indulges in spectacular aerial displays like those of some eagles.
The beginning of the Secreterybirds’ breeding season starts with pairs soaring and calling high above the nesting area. Once a nesting site has been selected by a pair, usually a flat-topped thorny Acacia tree, they begin trampling the crown to flatten it some more. Sticks are then brought to form a platform (above). On top of this is placed grass, animal dung, wool, leaves, etc. to line the crude nest. It is the male that brings most of the nesting material. The female spends more time arranging them.
At the nest site, the pair may continue to display, rest or continue to add or rearrange the material. This can last up to six months before the female starts laying one to three eggs.
Willis has this to say about the display: “The strange part is they only do it when the sun was behind the cloud… the moment the sun came out they stopped… and as soon as the sun went hiding, they started again. Whether it was pure coincidence, I don’t know.”
This post is a cooperative effort between NaturePixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.
Perrins, C. (ed.), 2009. The encyclopedia of birds. Oxford University Press. 656 pp.