What is a Secretary Bird?
Looking for Secretary Bird facts? Before we give you 80 surprising facts about this bird, let’s quickly find out what is a Secretary Bird.
A Secretary Bird is a bird of prey. Because of its killer kicks and unusual hunting skills, its acrobatic skills in air and its really unusual appearance, this bird has grabbed some serious attention worldwide.
The species is endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa, and it usually works around during hunting. It belongs to the family Sagittariidae.
Secretary Bird Classification
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Accipitriformes
- Family: Sagittariidae
- Genus: Sagittarius
- Species: S. serpentarius
- Binomial Name: Sagittarius serpentarius
Secretary Bird Facts: 1-5 | Naming
1. Secretary Bird is also often known as Secretarybird (notice the absence of space between the words Secretary and Bird in the second variant).
2. Now, coming the naming of the bird, it is believed that when the Europeans came across these birds, the noticed that the elongated black crest feathers resembled the secretaries back from 1800s when the male secretaries used to carry quill pens tucked behind their ears or in their wigs.
3. Also, secretaries from that era used to wear knee-length pants that were dark in color. The Secretary bird has black feathers that go till midway down their legs, resembling the knee-length pants.
4. Finally, secretaries, back in those days, used to wear tailcoats that were gray in color. The bird has long gray feathers in its wings and tail that resemble the tailcoats and hence the name.
5. A more recent theory says that the name came from a Arabic word “saqr et-tair”. That’s the name the Arabs use for the bird and in English, it literally means ‘hunger bird’.
Secretary Bird Facts: 6-10 | Distribution & Habitat
6. Secretary Bird is endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa and are found to the south of the great Sahara Desert.
7. The actual range in which the Secretary Bird. It the west, it can be found all the way up to the Gambia and Senegal.
8. Moving eastward, this bird of prey can be found all the way up to Ethiopia. Down south, it can be found all the way up to South Africa.
9. Secretary Birds are distributed across a variety of elevations from highlands to coastal plains.
10. They avoid dense shrubbery and forests because their massive size can impede their movements. They prefer savannas and open grasslands where the height of the grass is short enough for them to spot preys. Also, they select grasslands where acacia trees are scattered because they build their nests on top of acacia trees.
Secretary Bird Facts: 11-15 | Diet
11. These birds walk around for hunting. They have long strides. They are carnivores. This means that they eat other living beings.
12. Their diet consist of a wide range of prey. They feed on a wide range of Arthropods like scorpions, wasps, beetles, spiders and grasshoppers.
13. They also feed on small mammals like hedgehogs, mongooses, hares, mice, rats etc.
14. They also eat small birds, bird eggs, some small amphibians and even crabs.
15. They eat reptiles too. Lizards and snakes often become their diet and among snakes, they eat adders and cobras.
Secretary Bird Facts: 16-20 | Hunting Habits
16. They are birds of prey but one of the only two terrestrial birds of prey. The other one is Caracara. This means that Secretary Bird spends most of its time walking and hunting instead of flying.
17. The bird will walk and stamp on the ground to flush out small animals hidden in grass. It will then chase these small animals in a zigzag patter while keeping its wings spread out. This method is used for confusing the prey.
18. For smaller preys, they will usually use their beaks for stabbing and killing them and then eating them. For larger preys such as mongoose, hedgehogs, snakes etc. they will stomp their victims repeatedly to either kill the prey or to render the prey unconscious. They are known for kicking their prey with a force 5 times their own body weight!
19. Once the prey is dead or unconscious, the Secretary Bird will swallow the prey whole. The bird will not tear it up into pieces. They will swallow the whole prey (dead or unconscious) very quickly.
20. They come down from their nest only a few hours post dawn and walk around up to 20 miles a day for hunting.
Secretary Bird Facts: 21-25 | Description or Physical Characteristics
21. Secretarybird is a large bird of prey. It has distinctive long legs like that of cranes and hence, it is a tall bird. Average height of 2.95 feet to 3.93 feet is atypical but they can be as tall as 4.3 feet.
22. The head of a Secretarybird is like that of an Eagle with a hooked bill. The weight of the bird averages between 2.3 kilograms to 4.27 kilograms.
23. Males are slightly larger than females and hence, the wingspan of the males is slightly larger than the wingspan of the females. For males, the wingspan is between 4.13 feet and 4.43 feet while for females, the wingspan is between 3.94 feet and 4.33 feet.
24. Body feathers are usually gray in color across the bird’s back. The feathers become pales towards breast and rump. Flight feathers, belly feathers and thigh feathers are all black but underwings take up white color.
25. The bird’s brown eyes get a bare facial skin surrounding. This bare skin has a deep orange-red color. The bill of the bird is blue-gray in color.
Secretary Bird Facts: 6-10 | Description
26. The long legs of the bird are bare and carry a close resemblance to those of a crane. However, unlike the cranes, the legs of the Secretary Bird are very powerful.
27. The legs are slightly pinkish in color that end in stubby and pink toes.
28. Perhaps, THE MOST distinctive feature of the Secretary Bird is its crest. There are black-tipped long and erect feathers on the backside of its head.
29. Coming to its tail, the bird has two central feathers that are very elongated. When these birds fly, their tail feathers extend beyond their feet.
30. As far as the juveniles are concerned, they have a similar appearance with slight differences. Their eyes are gray and not brown. Their plumage is more brown. Their tails are short and their faces are yellow.
Secretary Bird Facts: 31-35 | Behavior of Secretary Bird
31. The Secretary Bird is often referred to as ‘Marching Eagle’ and ‘Devil’s Horse’. The reason is that they spend most of their time walking around and chasing prey on foot. They are fast runners actually.
32. They don’t have migratory traits. They however, are very territorial and a pair (a couple) will usually have a territory of 19 square miles. Within this territory, they will walk around 20 miles a day for hunting.
33. The Secretary Bird is diurnal. Its active hours is during the day. It comes down from the nests 2 hours after sun rises and continue hunting till late afternoon. Just before the sunset, the bird will return to its roost.
34. During peak day hours when it is hottest, the bird will usually be seen resting under trees in the shade.
35. This bird of prey is usually seen hunting in pairs or at times in familial groups not exceeding 5 individuals. Sometimes however, they can gather in larger groups but won’t stay for long.
Secretary Bird Facts: 36-40 | Behavior
36. When the bird will come under duress, it will start flapping its wings and run for some distance before taking a flight.
37. Secretary Bird is a very good flyer and a great acrobat in air. One of the very interesting of Secretary Bird facts is that they are very proficient when it comes to flying but they will save their energy by making use of the warm air currents. About acrobatics, consider watching a video on YouTube of somewhere. You will understand how good they are at flying.
38. Secretary Bird is not capable of taking off right from where it is standing. It will first go for a take-off run, which is pretty long and then it will take the air and start flying.
39. Secretary Bird doesn’t migrate (that is they are non-migratory) but of course, they have nomadic traits. Apart from traveling long distances for hunting, they will also travel long distances depending on environmental conditions, forest fires and rainfalls.
40. The bird has a very unusual hunting behavior. It will spread out the wings wide and raise the crest feathers on the back of its head while attacking its prey. Experts say that it is a move used by the bird to confuse and startle its prey.
Secretary Bird Weird Facts: 41-45 | Adaptations
41. The Secretary Bird is very unique and so are its adaptations. For example, the bird’s digestive tract is very short compared to other birds that are as large as itself. The reason is that the meat it swallows is quickly digested within its quickly digested inside its foregut. So, the need for physical breakdown of the food inside the digestive system is unnecessary
42. The bird isn’t herbivore and hence, plant material doesn’t enter its digestive system. As a result, fermentative digestion is not at all needed. This explains why cecum is absent in its large intestine.
43. The long legs of the bird are also specifically designed to aid it in the hunting process. The long legs help the bird in delivering deadly kicks.
44. The bird is known for eating poisonous snakes. To protect the bird from poisons, its feet’s lower portions have scaly protection. The scales prevent the snake fangs from entering the skin and the venom is nullified.
45. The legs are also adapted to walk over long distances and the long claws also add to the danger for the preys because they are also strong and sharp enough to stun or kill prey.
Secretary Bird Weird Facts: 46-50 | Adaptations
46. The long legs are also designed to keep the bird entirely above the grass and vegetation level so that it can stop potential prey.
47. The adaptations of the leg along with its short neck comes with a cost. The shape of the bird forces the bird to bend or crouch while drinking water, making the bird vulnerable.
48. The long legs however are very sturdy and gives the bird the ability to run very fast when under duress. The bird will usually run away in case of threat and after a take-off run, the bird will fly off.
49. Yet another adaptation is that the bird has hollow feathers on its wings. When it hunts poisonous snakes, it spreads out its wings and the snakes often try to bite the feathers. The hollow feathers save the bird from being hurt by snake poison.
50. The feet and claws of the Secretary Bird aren’t designed to grasp things properly. This is why, they will usually either immediately eat the prey or the bird will carry the prey back to its nest by catching it between its beaks.
Secretary Bird Weird Facts: 11-15 | Reproduction
51. There is no specific breeding season for Secretary Birds. They breed throughout the year. It all starts with courtship, which is heavily dependent on food availability.
52. During courtship, the male and the female will fly high in sky and fly in wide circles. They will sometimes plunge downwards and sometimes, perform swoops and while they do so, they will often clasp their talons right when they are flying.
53. These birds are monogamous. This means they will select one partner and will stay with him/her until death parts them.
54. While the courtship usually takes place in air, it is not unusual to perform courtship on treetops. Mating however takes place mostly on land but also on treetops.
55. The couple will usually build a nest on acacia treetops, which have flat tops. It is a thorny tree. Absence of acacia trees may force them to build nests on exotic and non-thorny trees. The nests are built using twigs and sticks.
Secretary Bird Weird Facts: 16-20 | Reproduction
56. The couple together builds the nest which is 8 feet across and has the shape of a saucer. The nest can be up to 30 centimeters deep.
57. The female will lay up to 3 eggs in a span of 2-3 days. Both the male and female will incubate the eggs for a period of 42 days to 46 days.
58. The newborn chicks will take up to 6 weeks for standing on their feet while it will take around 7 weeks since birth for the feathers to appear.
59. Both the parents are responsible for feeding the chicks. They will bring food to the chicks. Usually the parents will regurgitate the liquefied food and feed it to the chicks.
60. Though the birds involve in breeding throughout the year, they do have a high or peak season for breeding. That season is between August and March. In the years immediately following a good rainfall, the birds will raise up to 3 broods per year.
Secretary Bird Facts: 61-65 | Life Cycle and Lifespan
61. Secretary Birds mate round the year with peak season appears between August and March. Post mating, the female Secretary Bird will lay 1-3 eggs within a span of 2-3 days.
62. It has been observed that the third eggs generally remains unfertilized. The eggs are oval in shape and have a pale-green color.
63. Both parents are involved in incubation that lasts for around 42 to 46 days. After this, the chicks are born.
64. Chicks take around 6 weeks to stand on their own. The feathers start appearing by 7th week. Though the chicks are capable of feeding on their own by day 40, the parent birds still keep feeding them.
65. Both parents are responsible for feeding the chicks. The chicks are known for flapping their wings by day 60 and within next 5 to 15 days (that is, day 65 to day 80), the chicks are very much capable of fledging.
Secretary Bird Facts: 66-70 | Life Cycle and Lifespan
66. Once the chicks learn to get out of their nests, the parents embark on a mission of teach their chicks to hunt.
67. The chicks will be allowed to stay and linger around in the territory of the parents for some time before they become self-sufficient.
68. Once the babies are self-sufficient, they will move out of their parents’ territory and go somewhere else to build their own territory. They will find suitable mates for themselves.
69. In the wild, the Secretary Bird can live anywhere between 10 and 15 years.
70. In captivity, the Secretary Bird can live for a longer period, which can be as long as 19 years to 20 years.
Secretary Bird General Facts: 11-15 | Communication Between Secretary Birds
71. For most part of the day, the Secretary Birds prefer to stay silent. However, they do make sounds. They make use of a croaking wail for calling.
72. The croaking wail is long enough to be heard from long distances. The same croaking sound is also made during courtship before mating.
73. However, sounds made during courtship also include a different type of sound, which is often described as a long-drawn growling sound.
74. While feeding the chicks, the Secretary Birds are known for using the same growling sound but at a much softer tone.
75. These birds are also known for occasional whistling.
Secretary Bird Fun Facts: 76-82
76. South Africa and Sudan are the two countries which have Secretary Bird on the coat-of-arms.
77. Scientists are closely studying the hunting style of the bird because it has helped scientists understand how the prehistoric Terror Birds used to hunt some 3 million years ago.
78. Secretary Birds do eat snakes – poisonous ones but snakes don’t frequently make it on diet list of these birds as previously thought.
79. Africans have actually, for long, admired the Secretary Bird because of their ability to control pests and snakes.
80. IUCN has marked Secretary Bird as Vulnerable because they are increasingly coming under threat by loss of habitat because of increased human encroachment.
81. Did you know that Secretary Birds are also scavengers? Yes, they can also feed on dead animals, especially the ones that recently died of forest fires. They will scavenge through burn sites and find recently dead animals and eat them.
82. Did you know that the Secretary Birds are very intelligent? During forest fires, they will wait at the fringes of the burning area and when smaller animals managed to escape the fire and make it out to the open, the birds will catch them and eat them.