Secretary Bird

Secretary birds are almost completely silent birds

South Africa BirdlifeThe Secretary Bird {Sagittarius serpentarius}

This large bird of prey is named for the crest of long feathers at the back of its head that resemble quill pens that 19th century clerks stuck in their wigs.

The Secretary bird is an unusual bird. Unlike the other birds of prey, the Secretary Bird has very long legs and tail feathers. Its plumage is light gray, except for the black wing tips, tail, and thighs. Its face is covered in red and yellow skin.

Quick Facts


Range mass: 2.3 to 4.6 kg.
Range length: 112 to 152 cm.
Range wingspan: 191 to 220 cm.


Although they are usually seen on the ground, Secretary Birds nest in trees (usually acacia). Their nest can reach 8 feet across, even though it only holds 2-3 eggs at time.


Secretary birds are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara.


The diet of a Secretary bird consists mostly of insects, lizards, snakes, tortoises and rats. Small prey are picked up in the bill and swallowed. Larger prey are first stamped to death and then eaten. The Secretary bird also stamps its feet on the ground to flush out prey. Although they hunt on the ground, the Secretary bird can fly very well, but rarely does so.


The basic social structure in Secretary birds is a life-long pair. However, they are not particularly gregarious. In fact, members of a pair are usually not together, but instead stay a small distance apart.


Secretary birds are almost completely silent birds, except for a rare croaking sound they utter when displaying.


Primarily incubated by the female, after an incubation period of about 45 days two or three eggs will hatch. Both the parents feed the young. At 60 days, the young start to flap their wings. They stay in the nest for two to three months and can fly after about 80 days.


Incubation last for 45 days.

Life Expectancy

10 to 15 years in the wild. They live up to 19 years in captivity.


Young are preyed upon by crows, ravens, hornbills, large owls and kites. There are no known incidents of predation on the adults.


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