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Animal Data > Secretary Bird

(Sagittarius serpentarius)

Status Distribution
Not listed as threatened Central to South Africa
Number of Young Incubation
2 45 days

Secretary Bird
(Click for larger image)

The secretary bird inhabits open plains and savannah, roosting in trees. When hunting, it spreads its crest feathers like a fan and seeks food with its short hooked beak. The bird also uses its feet to scare lizards, grasshoppers and snakes from the tussocks of grass. The prey may be stamped on to kill it before being seized by the short hooked beak. The legs are well protected from bites by feather 'trousers' and a layer of thick scales. If pursued, the secretary bird relies on the speed of its legs but may spread its wings to aid the running.

During the breeding season there is aggression between the males within a group. Both sexes work together to build a nest which is a large, flat structure of branches tied together with grasses and lodged at a height of up to 13m in trees or bushes. This raft-like nest may have a diameter of almost 2 metres, but can be difficult to detect in the dense foliage. Eggs are layed in May or June and incubated mainly by the female. The young are fed by both parents and fly after around 80 days.

Main Features

Large bird with a wing span of 200cm. Owes its name to the long crest of feathers which look like quills stuck behind the ear. In addition, the long legs are feathered halfway and have the appearance of breeches. The face is bare and the tailfeathers are long and shaggy.

In Captivity

This species can be kept in captivity but does not breed well. In South Africa, it is kept to control snake and rat populations. Marwell was the first place in Britain to successfully breed and hatch secretary birds. They are fed on day old chicks (a by-product of the egg industry) and mice.

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