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Aves bird of the week - Secretarybird - Sagittarius serpentarius.


The Secretarybird - Sagittarius serpentarius - is a large, mostly terrestrial bird of prey Endemic to Africa. It is usually found in the open grasslands and savannah in sub-Saharan Africa. The majestic Secretarybird is in serious decline and is now classified as Globally Vulnerable.


The Secretarybird is instantly recognizable as having an eagle-like body on crane like legs. They have rounded wings and in flight it resembles a crane more than a bird of prey. The bird gets its name from its crest of long feathers that look like the quill pens of 19th century office workers used to tuck behind their ears. It is basically dove-grey in color, with black on the wings, thighs and elongated central tail feathers. It has an eagle like head with a short, down-curved bill is backed by an area of bare, red and yellow skin. The tail has two elongated central feathers that extend beyond the feet during flight. Sexes exhibit very little sexual dimorphism, although the male has longer head plumes and tail feathers.


The Secretary bird walks well on its long legs, and will walk roughly 40km per day. It finds most of its food on the ground and will stamp on grass tussocks to scare up lizards, grasshoppers, and small mammals or birds. Adults hunt in pairs, stalking through the habitat with long strides. Prey consists of insects, snakes, other reptiles, amphibians, tortoises, rats and other small mammals as well as young game birds. It also waits near fires, eating anything it can that is trying to escape. Secretary Birds have two distinct feeding strategies that are both executed on land. They can either catch prey by chasing it and striking with the bill, or stamping on prey until it is rendered stunned or unconscious enough to swallow.


Secretarybirds pair for life and are remarkably faithful to their nest site. The nest is generally placed on top of a tree, usually an acacia. During courtship, they exhibit a nuptial display by soaring high with undulating flight patterns and calling with guttural croaking. Males and females can also perform a grounded display by chasing each other with their wings up and back, much like the way they chase prey.

Secretarybirds lay two to three oval, rough textured, pale-green/white eggs over the course of two to three days. The eggs are incubated primarily by the female for 45 days. Both the parents feed the young and are fed liquefied and regurgitated insects directly by the male or female and are eventually weaned to small mammals and reptile fragments regurgitated onto the nest. At 60 days, the young start to flap their wings, and by 65 to 80 days are able to fledge.

The Secretarybird has traditionally been admired in Africa for its striking appearance and ability to deal with pests and snakes. Africans sometimes call it the Devil's Horse. As such it has often not been molested, although this is changing as traditional observances have declined.

Conservation Status - Globally Vulnerable.

The Secretarybird was uplisted from Near-threatened to Vulnerable. In South Africa there is considerable concern about the conservation status of the species. A preliminary analysis of SABAP1 and SABAP2 data shows a considerable reduction in the areas this species previously occupied. This is probably mostly due to habitat loss and habitat degredation, but other threats such as power lines collisions are also taking their toll.


Ask Aves Birding Tours to create a tour for you to see these majestic birds or book on one of the following Aves Birding Tours/Safaris/Adventures: -

Aves Arid Birding Tour / Safari /Adventure.

Aves Eastern Cape Birding Tour / Safari /Adventure.

Aves Highlands / Tembe Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves KZN Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves North East Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves North West Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves Western Cape Birding Tour / Safari / Adventure.

Aves West Coast Birding Tour / Safari /Adventure.


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