The secretary bird can be found in the southern two-thirds of Africa in the open grasslands, plains, and savannahs. It searches for food where the vegetation is not too dense for it to run. It is a very fast runner.
In appearance, the secretary bird looks like a crane, having very long legs that are covered with feathers to the knees. Its tail has two long feathers sticking out, and its feathers are gray with black on the wings and legs. On each side of the face is a patch of bare, red skin and on the back of the head is a crest of long black-tipped feathers. These long, flowing feathers hang down, resembling quill pens that clerks carried in their wigs in the 18th century, and that is what gives this bird its name.
The secretary bird is a bird of prey and it spends much of its time on the ground hunting for food. It does not migrate unless the food supply is short. Unlike other birds of prey, the secretary bird does not have grasping toes that are used to seize prey. Its short, blunt toes are armed with curved talons.
The diet includes a wide variety of animals, locusts, insects, small mammals, young birds, snakes, tortoises, and lizards. The method of hunting is to walk through the grass, stomping occasionally to flush out prey. Small animals are caught in its bill but larger animals and snakes are killed by trampling them.
The nest of the secretary bird is built in the top of the acacia tree and is made up of sticks lined with grass. It can be 8 feet (2.4 m) across. Two or three eggs are laid and incubated by the female for about six weeks. Both parents feed the young for about seven months. The chicks will stay with their parents for some time after they learn how to fend for themselves.
The secretary bird is a good flyer but prefers to walk. It needs a long runway for takeoff.
Falconiformes • Sagittariidae • Sagittarius serpentarius
Height: 4 feet (1.2 m)
Wing Span: 7 feet (2.1 m)
Special Design Feature: The secretary bird has long legs that are feathered down to their knees. It looks like they are wearing pants.
Did You Know? The secretary bird can kill a snake up to 4 feet (1.2 m) long.