Secretarybird

A long-legged bird with a stunning black feather crest on its back head

Bernard DUPONT

Secretarybirds are commonly referred to as “raptors” of Sub-Saharan Africa’s savannas, grasslands, and shrublands.

The secretarybird stands out with its tall, crane-like legs and raptor features. It can reach up to 1.3 meters (4 feet) in height, with a wingspan of over 2 meters (6.6 feet). Its body plumage is predominantly grey, accented with black flight feathers and long, black-tipped tail feathers that add to its dramatic appearance. The secretarybird’s face is unfeathered, revealing skin that can range in color from yellow to deep orange or red, often becoming more vibrant during the breeding season.

Secretarybirds are known for their terrestrial lifestyle, spending most of their time on the ground. Their long legs are not just for show; they are powerful tools used to stalk and hunt prey. Unlike other raptors that rely on flight to hunt, secretarybirds use their strong legs to kick and stomp on snakes, their preferred prey, with astonishing speed and force. They also consume other small animals, including insects, mammals, and birds.

These birds are skilled hunters, often working in pairs or small family groups to flush out prey. Their hunting method is efficient, allowing them to cover vast distances in search of food.

The mating rituals of secretarybirds are unique and can be quite a spectacle. They involve elaborate displays both on the ground and in the air, including a high-flying dance where the birds soar to great heights before plummeting down in a show of aerial acrobatics.

Secretarybirds build large nests out of sticks, which they situate on top of acacia trees or other tall shrubs. Both parents participate in nest construction, incubation of the eggs, and rearing of the chicks.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Angola
2020
Benin
2020
Botswana
2020
Burkina Faso
2020
Burundi
2020
Cameroon
2020
Central Af. Rep.
2020
Chad
2020
Côte D’ivoire
2020
DR Congo (Kinshasa)
2020
Djibouti
2020
Eritrea
2020
Eswatini
2020
Ethiopia
2020
Gambia
2020
Ghana
2020
Guinea-Bissau
2020
Origin Uncertain
Kenya
2020
Lesotho
2020
Liberia
2020
Vagrant
Malawi
2020
Mali
2020
Mauritania
2020
Mozambique
2020
Namibia
2020
Niger
2020
Nigeria
2020
Rwanda
2020
Vagrant
Senegal
2020
Somalia
2020
South Africa
2020
South Sudan
2020
Sudan
2020
Tanzania
2020
Togo
2020
Uganda
2020
Zambia
2020
Zimbabwe
2020

Did you know?

  • Symbol of protection and victory, it is portrayed in South Africa and Sudan’s national emblems.

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Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic / Monomorphic (size)

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No