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On 21 January 2013 an eight week old Secretarybird chick became a household name in South Africa. On this day a 38g GPS tracking device was fitted to this bird. The nest site was at Sondela Nature Reserve near Bela-Bela in the Limpopo Province.

The fitment process was recorded and televised on the television programme 50/50. Soon after this event, the bird was named BLiNG by BirdLife Northern Gauteng, the sponsors of the tracking device. During the following few months BirdLife South Africa regularly reported the movements of this bird through social media, print media and radio. BLiNG, a male bird, spent a few months in the vicinity of the nest where he must have learnt to locate food, everything from grasshoppers to small mammals and snakes.

BLiNG at the nest site near Bela-Bela.

On 26 April 2013 BLiNG left the Natal area and in the next few months surprised everybody when he moved to the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana! He settled there for about seven months. During December 2013 BLiNG flew back to South Africa and for short periods was recorded within 20 to 50 km from his nest site. For a few weeks he moved to an area south-east of Pretoria, before moving back to the Waterberg area. During the middle of 2014 he moved further south and spent time in the Soshanguve area, a developed area with a large human population.

BLiNG was observed a number of times as he visited various part of the country. This photo was taken on a farm in the Waterberg area.
BLiNG was observed a number of times as he visited various part of the country. This photo was taken on a farm in the Waterberg area.

On 8 October 2014 BLiNG flew east over the N1 highway to an area called Rynoue, not far from Roodeplaat Dam. Ernst Retief, who monitored the movements of BLiNG, saw that from 13h00 on this day all the satellite location points were from one position, raising concerns that the bird was not well. The next day Ernst searched for BLiNG and after four hours found him dead under a powerline. It appeared as if he had collided with the powerline. His body had been badly burnt during a veld fire.

BLiNG's last position.
BLiNG’s last position.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances of BLiNG’s death, some interesting data were obtained during this secretarybird’s life. During the 21 months that he was tracked, 6 481 location points were downloaded; providing a unique opportunity to determine a secretarybird’s habitat preferences. Even the way BLiNG died provides us with an opportunity to highlight the threat of powerlines to large raptors and other birds.

BirdLife South Africa would like to thank BirdLife Northern Gauteng for sponsoring the tracking device and all the people who followed the movements of BLiNG. BirdLife South Africa will continue to monitor the movements of the other tracked secretarybirds and it is hoped that the combined information will assist us to develop the necessary actions to conserve this threatened species!

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BirdLife South Africa

The vision of BirdLife South Africa is to promote the conservation, research, understanding, observation of and enjoyment of natural birds, and their habitats. By focusing on birds, and the sites and the habitats on which they depend, BirdLife South Africa aims to improve the quality of life for birds, for other wildlife and ultimately for people. BirdLife South Africa is the largest non-profit bird conservation organisation in the country. It relies on donor funding and financial support from the public to carry out its critical conservation work. For more information, please contact Linda van den Heever at linda.vdheever@birdlife.org.za or 011 789 1122.