Sagittarius serpentarius - The Secretary Bird

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.

Did you know? Although it can fly, the secretary bird prefers to move around on foot and can cover 30 km a day, earning it the title 'Africa's marching eagle'.

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.

Size

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

Habitat

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.

Distribution

Secretary birds are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara.

In South Africa, you may spot them at the world-renowned Kruger National Park (between five and six hours’ drive from Johannesburg and Pretoria), the Bontebok National Park near Swellendam, and the Sterkfontein Dam Reserve near Harrismith in the Free State.

Diet

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.

Socialisation

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.

Communication

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

Reproduction

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

Incubation last for 45 days.

Life Expectancy

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

Predators

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

References

Birdlife International; Arkive.org.

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Conservation Status
Secretary Bird
Vulnerable
Kruger Park's Big 6 Birds

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