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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Species Fact Profile: Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

Sagittarius serpentarius (J. F. Miller, 1779)

Range: Sub-Saharan Africa
Habitat: Grassland, Open Woodland
Diet: Insects, Small Mammals, Snakes, Birds, Eggs
Social Grouping: Pairs, Family Groups
Reproduction:  Monogamous, may be for life.  Breeding occurs year round, but peaks August through March.  Nest is a stick platform built in a tree, may be reused for several years.  1-3 eggs incubated for 42-46 days by both parents. Chicks fledge at 2-3 months old, independent at 6 months old.
Lifespan: 15-20 Years
Conservation Status: IUCN Vulnerable, CITES Appendix II

  • Stand 90-120 centimeters tall, wingspan 120-135 centimeters, weigh 2.3-4.3 kilograms.  Females slightly smaller than males.  Longest legs of any bird of prey
  • Both sexes have white-gray plumage with black bellies, thighs, and flight feathers.  The eyes are surrounded by a patch of bare, orange skin.  Black, spatula-shaped feathers form a raised crest at the back of the head
  • Capable of flying very well, but prefers to walk, travelling 20-30 kilometers a day and earning it the nickname of "marching eagle"
  • Kills its prey by repeatedly kicking or stomping on it; especially famed as a snake hunter (especially venomous snakes - Latin name translates as "Snake Archer"), although snakes form a relatively small portion of the diet
  • Fairly nomadic, will travel great distances in response to fire, flood, and other environmental changes.  Juveniles disperse widely after gaining independence from parents
  • Adults have few natural predators; chicks in open-topped nests are vulnerable to eagles, ground hornbills, and other predatory birds
  • The common name is thought to come from the crest, said to resemble the quills that clerks and secretaries used to tuck behind their ears.  Another theory is that it comes from the Arabic Saqr-et-tair, or "hunter bird"
  • In decline, especially in West Africa, threatened by habitat loss and poisoning
  • Appears on the coats of arms of Sudan and South Africa

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