Critter of the Week: Secretary Bird

CONSERVATION STATUS

 

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION

KINGDOM: ANIMALIA

PHYLUM: CHORDATA

CLASS: AVES

ORDER: ACCIPITRIFORMES

FAMILY: SAGITTARIIDAE

GENUS: SAGITTARIUS

SPECIES: S. SERPENTARIUS

BINOMIAL NAME: SAGITTERIUS SERPENTARIUS

 

RANGE

The secretarybird is a large bird of prey found only in Africa. It usually lives in savannas and open grasslands where it can spot prey with ease. Secretarybirds look like eagles in the body but have crane-like legs giving them the ability to grow up to 5 feet tall, weighing about 10 pounds. Even with their 7-foot wingspan, these large birds prefer the terrestrial lifestyle.

There are two theories on where the secretarybird got its name. First, it resembles the male secretaries from the 1800s. Secretaries used to keep several quills in their wigs, similar to us holding a pen behind our ear, which matches the quill-like feathers sticking out of the secretarybird’s head. On the other hand, scientists believe the bird’s name could come from the Arabic word for hunter-bird, which is “saqu ettair.”

Even though the secretarybird has the longest legs of any bird of prey, they much prefer walking than flying. In fact, they walk an average of 12-19 miles every day. However, when they do fly, they are very proficient fliers often flying at great heights, using warm air currents to preserve energy. While flying with its rounded wings, the secretarybird will extend its legs behind it, giving it the appearance of a crane.

 

 

Secretarybirds are carnivores mainly eating snakes, insects, lizards, bird eggs, and other small prey. It has two ways of killing their prey; one, stab their prey with their beak and swallow it whole, or stomp on it with their long powerful legs. Scientists put a rubber snake on a force plate and found that a male secretarybird stomps with a force of five times its body weight!

 

 

Secretarybirds mate yearlong with the female laying one to three eggs when there is plenty of food. Both parents build large nests high in the trees that are made mainly out of sticks and leaves. Once hatched, the babies will be fed by both parents for about 40 days, which is when the chicks will begin eating small animals. Eventually, the chicks will start accompanying their parents on hunts and soon after become independent.