Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)


The Secretarybird is a very distinctive bird, which is the sole member of the genus Sagittarius. It is only found in Africa, in the grass plains & steppes south of the Sahara. It is the only bird of prey predominantly terrestial habits, they may walk up to 20 miles in a day.

Standing up to 4ft tall, it has very long legs, with black feathered thighs. It has a grey body, black feathers & white wing linings, its tail has two black central streamers. Its most distinctive feature are the 20 black crest feathers, resembling quill pens stuck behind its (invisible) ears. This combination of features made it resemble a 19th century clerk or secretary, in those days they were male & often wore tailcoats & knickerbocker trousers & placed their quill pens behind their ears. The head of the Secretarybird (with its yellowish bare patch) and shape of the beak are very similar to those of the caracara. (They also have a very long eyelashes, which many modern secretaries would appreciate).

A more recent theory on the naming of the Secretarybird, is that it is a corruption of the Arabic Saqu Ettair meaning "hunter-bird", which passed, incorrectly, into French as secrétaire & was subsequently translated into English as secretary.

Secretarybirds feed on snakes, lizards, grasshoppers, mice, birds eggs & the occasional small mammal. It was once thought that snakes were the primary diet (the Latin name translates as "Archer Of Snakes"), but recent studies indicate that snakes make up only around 2% of the diet. When feeding on snakes, they ensure are dead prior to eating, as they are not immune to the snakes poison. The Secretarybird kills its prey by stamping on it, accurately aiming the rear talon at the skull. occasionally, aided by their height, they will pick the prey up & kill it by dropping it. It is often attracted to bush & grass fires, where it will feed on small animals that failed to avoid the fire. Unlike other raptors, they have short stout toes that are unable to grasp.

Most often they are seen walking, and they can run very fast, but Secretarybirds are also very accomplished fliers, using thermals to gain height & soaring for long distances. They nest at the top of trees (their nests can exceed 8 ft in diameter) and bring food to their young either in the beak or the crop.

Secretarybirds will usually mate for life. Once paired, they will usually remain very close, rarely being out of each other's sight, though they will hunt in different areas. Both birds share the nesting responsibilities. The young are mainly fed on small mammals & insects, only very rarely will they be fed on snakes.

IUCN Red List Status :

Least Concern (LC)

Also Called :

English Secretarybird
Longed-Legged Marching Eagle
Secretary Falcon
Secretary Vulture
Dutch Secretarisvogel
French Messager sagittaire
Grand serpentaire
German Sekretär
Italian Serpentario
Russian Птица-секретарь (Ptitsa-sekretar)
Spanish Secretario
Swedish Sekreterarfagel

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