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Quick Facts
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Sagittariidae
Genus: Sagittarius
Species: serpentarius

Height: 40 inches
Length: 49 - 59 inches
Weight: 7 - 9 lbs
Wing span: 78 inches
Incubation: 45 days
Offspring: 2 - 3

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Secretary Bird

Sagittarius serpentarius

Close-up of head (412 KB)

The Secretary bird's name has several explanations. The most popular is that it is named because of the crest of long feathers at the back of its head that resemble quill pens that 19th century clerks stuck in their wigs. Another explanation is that the name comes from the Arabic "saqu ettair", meaning hunter-bird, which translates into French as "secretaire". The genus Sagittarius refers to the birds resemblance to an archer, and the species serpentarius refers to the fact that the bird preysWhat does preys mean? on snakes. Whatever the names mean, the Secretary bird is an unusual bird. Unlike the other birds of preyWhat does prey mean?, it has very long legs and tail feathers. Its plumage is light gray, except for the black wing tips, tail, and thighs. Its face is covered in red and yellow skin.


The diet of a Secretary bird consists mostly of insects, lizards, snakes, tortoises and rats. Small preyWhat does prey mean? are picked up in the bill and swallowed. Larger prey are first stamped to death and then eaten. The Secretary bird also stamps its feet on the ground to flush out prey. Although they hunt on the ground, the Secretary bird can fly very well, but rarely does so.


Secretary birds can be found throughout Africa south of the Sahara. Although they are usually seen on the ground, they nest in trees (usually acacia). Their nest can reach 8 feet across, even though it only holds 2-3 eggs at time.


The basic social structure in Secretary birds is a life-long pair. However, they are not particularly gregariousWhat does gregarious mean?. In fact, members of a pair are usually not together, but instead stay a small distance apart.


After an incubationWhat does incubation mean? period of about 45 days, two or three eggs will hatch. They stay in the nest for about two to three months and can fly after about 80 days.


Secretary birds are almost completely silent birds, except for a rare croaking sound they utter when displaying.

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