Feathered tourist’s KZN holiday

2014-08-12 00:00

THE holiday that Taemane, a secretary bird from the Free State, had in KZN, has led to a breakthrough in knowledge about this endangered bird species.

The young bird, whose name means “diamond” in Tswana and Sotho, wears a tracking device and had left its nest in Warden in 2013.

It travelled over 300 km to spend four months on a farm near Ixopo, before it returned to the Free State.

BirdLife South Africa’s Ernst Retief said the route followed by Taemane had taught ornithologists a lot. “Although we knew adult birds can move very far, up to 1 500 km, we did not know what the young birds do when they leave the nest. Now we know they can also move very far before they return to the next after a few months.”

With the date from its tracking device, Retief noted secretary birds can fly hundreds of kilometres in a few days.

In one case a young bird from Bela-Bela in Limpopo moved to the Makgadikgadi pans in Botswana.

Dawie de Swardt of the department of ornithology at the National Museum in Bloemfontein, said in the days before they had tracking devices, ornithologists would only know the end of a bird’s journey when it was found dead.

Since BirdLife SA started using trackers at the end of 2012, nine birds have been tagged with transmitters.

“The project has several aims, including to see how far the chicks move from the nests and to look at the habitat in which they prosper,” said Retief.

The data collected to date show the birds do not make much use the safe habitats provided by national parks and reserves.

“This naturally makes it difficult to conserve the birds,” said Retief.

“Because they spend a lot of time on farms, we will definitely need farmers’ co-operation to conserve the bird.”

• For more information on the project, contact Ernst Retief on ernst.retief@birdlife.org.za

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