The secretary bird is an iconic African bird that’s found in the grasslands, savannas, and even shrublands in sub-Saharan Africa.
They are large birds that impress with their size, and stand out from the crowd with their incredible resilience and focus. They are easily recognized by their extremely long legs and crown of thin black feathers at the back of their head, which stand up like a halo.
Secretary bird appearance
Perhaps surprisingly considering their appearance, the Secretary Bird is actually a bird of prey. But while most predatory birds tend to have short legs and they are very fast, this bird is not like that. It has a tail, wings, and long legs. This is the only bird in its family, and on top of that it has elongated tail feathers. The wings are white, but there’s plenty of black towards the tip of the wings as well. Moreover, the thing to consider here is the fact that these birds have shagging, long tail feathers. The face is bare, which is something to consider as well.
One of the most distinctive features for this bird is the fact that it comes with 20 black crest feathers. For a lot of people, this resembles quill pens. That’s actually where the name Secretary Bird comes from in the first place. The Secretary Bird has a similar head shape when compared to the caracara. It’s also one of the few birds out there that has really long eyelashes.
Another thing that makes the Secretary Bird unique is the fact that the top half of its legs has black feathers. In some ways, it looks like it’s wearing bicycle shorts. The lower half is actually covered in scales, to the point where you barely see any visible feathers. These are amazing birds, very agile despite their size and they are also very good, fast predators. That alone makes them stand out when compared to many of the other predators out there.
Range & habitat
You will find the Secretary Bird in a variety of different places in Africa. In fact, as long as there are grasslands, savannas or shrublands, these birds will be there. You will find them in Congo, Botswanan, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Malawi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Senegal and a plethora of other locations. They are not the type of bird that migrates often, but they will sometimes migrate if their current location lacks food and their necessities.
What kind of diet does the Secretary Bird have? As we mentioned earlier, this is a carnivorous bird, mostly since it’s a predator. It consumes small mammals, rats, tortoises, amphibians, snakes, young game birds and a wide range of reptiles. That alone can make it incredibly unique and interesting, since the Secretary Bird does keep a variety diet when compared to many predatory birds out there.
It’s important to note that the caracaras and Secretary Bird are the only 2 predatory birds that actually hunt on the ground. These birds will hunt from the early morning and up to the evening. They usually rest during the massive heat of the afternoon, but as soon as the temperatures get lower, it goes hunting again.
The way the Secretary Bird attacks is via striking their prey with their beak. But since the beak is short, you can sometimes see Secretary Birds use their claws and large feet to stomp the prey to death. It’s rather common, and it all depends on the type of prey. Snakes are actually their favorite meal, but as we mentioned above, they do have a varied diet.
Behaviour & lifestyle
What you will notice about Secretary Birds is that you will mostly find them alone. They are rarely a part of a group in the first place. Another important aspect to keep in mind is that they are walking up to 30 kilometers a day. Despite their size, they are actually very fast, which is why they rely on their speed to escape any predators. Most of their food can be found on the ground.
The thing to note here is that they are sometimes kept in captivity because they are killing rats and snakes. That being said, the bird will stomp on grass to scare grasshoppers, lizards and even small mammals. The Secretary Bird legs are protected from bites because they have scales which are super durable, as we mentioned above. The smaller animals are just picked up and then swallowed normally, which is something very important to take into consideration here. This type of bird is opportunistic, so you can find them near injured animals sometimes.
Secretary Birds usually mate for life. The mating process takes place on the ground and in the air. Males will perform a variety of aerial courtship displays, also known as pendulum flights. You will find some males constantly swooping down and back up, they will repeat the pattern and even roll in the air. It’s incredible and it really shows the power and resilience these birds are bringing in to the table.
Then the process continues on the ground, where the pair dances around one another with the stretched wings. They will then build a nest with sticks, normally in the acacia trees. One thing that makes these birds stand out is the fact that they will use the same tree for many years to come. Females will lay 3 eggs that are a combination of green and blue. It takes around 50 days for the eggs to catch, and both parents will take care of the chicks. The young birds will take 3 months to fledge.
Meet the secretary bird
The Secretary Bird stands out with its size and unique visual appeal. These birds are extraordinary, and people will appreciate them just because they are so distinctive and different. You do want to check them out for yourself, as they are nothing short of incredible. Plus, you will be impressed with their resilience and lifestyle. There are anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 of them in the wild, the number is hard to pinpoint because they are widely spread all over their habitat.
Did you enjoy learning more about the secretary bird? Have you ever met this unique creature face-to-face? Tell us about your secretary bird experience in the comment section below. Because those who care, share!
Top countries for safaris
Most read articles
- All about the ‘big five’ animals
- When, where & how to see the great migration
- Collective nouns for animals
- Safari movies to watch before you go
- The ultimate safari reading list
- What are Africa’s most dangerous animals?
- The 6 greatest animal migrations in Africa
- The 20 best malaria-free safari destinations
- The world’s fastest land animals