This unmistakeable, unique, long-legged, mostly ground-dwelling raptor with possibly the coolest scientific name (Sagittarius serpentarius, meaning “of snakes”) was even announced recently as Birdlife South Africa’s Bird of the Year for 2019.
Appearing as if it is the offspring of an eagle and a crane, its English name is thought to be derived from the Arabic saqr-et-tair, which means “hunter bird”. Although they can fly, the prefer to stay on the ground, sometimes walking up to 30 kilometres (18 miles) a day!
It is a large, tall bird (125 to 150 cm and weighing 2.3 to 4.3 kg) with long pink legs, long black crest feathers, a bare orange face with a hooked bill and long central tail feathers. It is grey above, white below, with black flight feathers, abdomen and thighs.
It is quite a special sight to see one of these uncommon birds purposefully striding in the open grassland savannahs of Africa, overpowering and eating anything from insects, lizards, small mammals, birds and of course snakes; even venomous ones! It usually kills prey by fast kicks with its long legs and strong toes, swallows it whole and tears only larger prey while holding it down with the inner toes. Interestingly, despite its fearsome snake-killing reputation, snakes actually don’t make up a large proportion of the Secretarybird’s diet.
Secretarybirds build large flat nests in the tops of thorn trees or dense bushes and breed year-round. The female does most of the incubation and is fed by the male during this time. A clutch usually contains one to three eggs. Siblings do not show any aggression to each other and if conditions are good it is likely that all of the chicks will fledge successfully. Both adults feed the chicks by regurgitating prey stored in their crops while hunting.
Endemic to Africa, these amazing birds are most easily seen in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa, the Serengeti in Tanzania, Awash in Ethiopia and the Maasai Mara in Kenya.
Secretarybirds are indeed special, and with populations rapidly declining (they are currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List) and their habitat severely threatened, it is imperative that we try our best to save these charismatic birds.
Join one of our Tanzania Safaris and Tours to experience this wonderful safari destination with us.