Oh, hello there.
Scientifically, this goofy bird is known as Sagittarius serpentarius, but the common name is based from a few distinct observations. In the 1800’s (around the time this bird was first described) secretaries would carry their quill pens behind their ears. The feathers protruding from the crest of this bird apparently give it an appearance resembling those secretaries. In Latin, Sagittarius (the bird’s genus) means “archer”; the crest feathers could resemble a quiver of arrows. Serpentarius in Latin refers to serpents, and this bird is known for their ability to catch snakes.
Besides snakes, the secretary bird enjoys a diet consisting of insects, small mammals, and even other birds. When the secretary bird has chased down their prey, they either strike it with their bill, or stomp on it until the prey dies, or is stunned enough to swallow. After fires, these birds can be found scavenging around the burn site for animals that were unable to escape the blaze.
Despite being related to raptors (buzzards, vultures, harriers, kites), secretary birds spend most of their time on the ground. They can be found south of the Sahara Desert, with their ideal habitat consisting of savannas with short grasses for hunting, and acacia trees for roosting.
These birds are monogamous, and pairs work together for months to build large nests which are typically about 8 feet (2.4 meters) in diameter and one foot (0.3 meters) in depth. Two or three eggs are laid over the course of a few days, with an incubation period of about 45 days.
With an eagle-like body, and crane-like legs, these birds can reach a height of about 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) tall, and can have a wingspan of 6.9 feet (2.1 meters). They can live for about 15 years in the wild but have been recorded to live for as long as 19 years in captivity.
In 2000, South Africa adopted a new coat of arms which displays this bird. Similarly, in 1985 Sudan put the bird on their national emblem.
Though adult birds have no natural predator, the young chicks are left vulnerable in their treetop nests to other birds such as ravens or large owls. Deforestation and loss of habitat are the main threats to this species and as such, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorized the bird as vulnerable. However, the bird is still widespread across Africa, and is well represented in protected areas.