Thursday, December 19, 2013

Secretary Bird (Africa Series)

The Secretary Bird is a nomad at heart.  Boldly wandering the grasslands, he is the terrestrial raptor to be reckoned with in Africa.   He can fly, but prefers to walk. 

Odd-looking even in the bizarre world of birds, the Secretary Bird arouses immediate curiosity.    Eagle-like in body shape, but with pinkish crane-like legs and a red face, the Secretary Bird is one of a kind. 

Close to four feet tall, he can spot prey before it sees him…run it down…stomp it to death…grab it in his hooked bill and keep on walking.

With everyplace and no place to call home, the Secretary Bird is certain to cross paths where he is not welcome. A pair of Crowned Plover took to the air to intercept this Secretary Bird as he passed through plover-land. 

Grossly out-matched, a Crowned Plover buzzes the Secretary Bird to display his displeasure, but inflicts no pain. Dismissing the attack to his head, the Secretary Bird marched straight ahead…never broke stride.

The Crowned Plovers must have had a reason to be so bold and it probably was eggs or nestlings.  The encounter with the Secretary Bird only lasted a minute, but if he had been more determined and happened upon the Crowned Plover’s nest, he would have taken advantage of the opportunity.

Secretary Birds eat a wide variety of ground dwelling animals including mice, invertebrates, lizards, snakes and other birds.  Insects are often flushed from cover by stomping on mats of vegetation.   Even venomous snakes are fair game.  Although not immune to the poison, Secretary Birds are agile enough to stomp the snake into unconsciousness before swallowing it.

(Click any picture to enlarge)  

There are several possible explanations for the Secretary bird's unusual name. A French corruption of the Arabic saqr-et-tair meaning “hunter-bird" is one thought.

Another explanation is more widely known.  European male secretaries of the 1700-1800’s wore tall grey tailcoats with knee-length pants and often kept a goose-quill pen resting over an ear. The bird’s knee-length feathered pants and head feathers compared to the human secretaries of the time and may have fixed the name in people’s minds.


Wildlife of East Africa, Withers & Hosking
San Diego Zoo Animals