On Friday, May 26, 2017, two Secretary birds left their behind-the-scenes habitat. An exit gate had not been tightly secured and strong winds on Thursday evening blew it open. Upon this discovery, a large crew of keepers and Zoo staff immediately began searching the neighboring area for the two birds. They were able to keep an eye on the two birds for some time, but unfortunately were not able to get the birds back to their habitat. This type of bird can fly, which makes their recovery very difficult.
Tell me more about Secretary birds.
Secretary birds are native to Africa, typically south of the Sahara desert, and prefer open grasslands and savannas, which are most suitable for finding food. They do not migrate, but may follow food sources. They usually stand more than four feet tall, with long legs, and have a series of distinctive, dark quill-like feathers on the back of their heads. Their plumage is pale grey above and white below, with the black abdomen and thighs standing out. Although they can fly, they prefer to be on the ground, as they are very skilled at hunting snakes, insects, rodents, and amphibians. Secretary birds are terrestrial birds of prey, meaning they hunt for their prey while on the ground. They are noted for their exceptionally long legs -- in fact they have the longest legs of any bird of prey. They can travel up to 20 miles in a day.
How long have these birds been at the North Carolina Zoo and how long can they live?
The male bird is about 12 years old and arrived at the North Carolina Zoo in June 2013. The female is 4 years old and arrived here in June 2014. Secretary birds can live 10 to 15 years in the wild, and up to 19 years in human care. The birds have been together at the North Carolina Zoo for three years. The female is still considered young for breeding, and because of her age they may not have formed a strong pair bond yet.
Are the birds together right now?
The birds have not been seen together for some time, so we are unsure if they are traveling together.
Where do they roost?
Secretary birds roost in trees at night in the wild, due to the risk of predation in Africa. We are unsure if these particular birds would engage in this same behavior.
Are the birds dangerous to humans or small pets?
The birds are no threat to people, zoo animals, pets or farm animals. They will actually avoid people.
Are Secretary birds endangered in the wild?
No, they are not endangered.
What is the North Carolina Zoo doing to get the birds back?
The North Carolina Zoo is working closely with a USDA Wildlife Services biologist who is an expert in catching wild mammals and birds and has also consulted with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The Zoo is working diligently on this situation with our top priority to return these two birds back to the Zoo. A Hotline (336.879.7610) has been established for the general public to call if they have seen the birds.
Why don’t I see the birds listed on the Zoo map?
These birds are in a behind-the-scenes habitat and not visible to guests.
Is the Zoo getting additional help?
The Zoo has asked the general public for their assistance in locating these flighted birds. Sightings reported by the public have been very helpful in tracking these birds as they move from field to field looking for food. In addition to Zoo staff experts, the Zoo has consulted with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and has secured assistance from a field biologist from USDA Wildlife Services.
How is the Zoo planning on capturing the birds?
Food stations have been set out for the birds in areas where they have been seen, but this takes patience and time. Our field experts have specialized equipment to use to try to safely recapture the birds.
How long will it take to get the birds back?
Since the Secretary birds are eating well and they are capable of flying, it may take time and patience for a successful recovery of the birds. The Zoo is focused on this situation with our top priority to return these two birds back to the Zoo. However, Zoo staff would like for our guests to understand that there is a possibility that the birds may not be recovered.
Why doesn’t the Zoo just dart the birds?
The Zoo’s chief veterinarian says that darting would be too dangerous to try with these birds as it could result in severe injury or death.
Why weren’t the birds clipped so they couldn’t fly?
The birds were housed in a covered outdoor aviary, with access to an indoor holding area, so there was no need to clip the birds’ wings.
Where have the Secretary birds been seen?
The most recent sightings were in the Sophia and Sanford area. On June 26, there was confirmed sighting of a Secretary bird in Sophia. The bird then flew toward the Randleman Lake area. There has also been a previous sighting in Ramseur.
Are the birds okay?
The birds have been observed eating, and are in good condition. Both birds appear to be doing well and are healthy.
Are the birds adapting?
They seem to be adapting well to the rural fields of North Carolina, often seen foraging for food
and eating. They eat amphibians, snakes, rodents and large insects.
Why not just let them be?
The birds are more likely to live a long, healthy life at the Zoo with our excellent facilities and highly trained staff.
How can I identify the Secretary Bird?
From several of the Hotline reports, we know that people have been confusing Great Blue Herons with the Secretary bird. Use this comparison chart to see the distinct differences between these two long-legged birds. Secretary birds have a short, eagle-like beak and vivid red-orange markings on their face.
What can I do to help?
If you see these distinctive birds, try to get a photo of the bird so that our experts can confirm the sighting. Please do not approach the bird(s) and immediately call our Hotline 336.879.7610 to report a sighting. Sightings from the general public are crucial to helping the Zoo team track the movement of the birds over such a large area. We thank you for your help!