The Sagittarius Serpentarius, also known as the secretary bird, is a bird of prey found in Africa. Its unique name comes from the quill-shaped crests on its head that resemble the pens of clerks during the 18th century. Interestingly, this bird has another remarkable feature – long, striking eyelashes that would make any makeup model envious.
For a decade now, Brian Connolly has been capturing the beauty of nature through his photography. Despite his vast experience, one particular bird has managed to leave a lasting impression on him. The secretary bird, in his opinion, is a truly remarkable creature. He shared with Bored Panda, “These exotic birds have a unique way of hunting snakes on the ground. They use their dinosaur-like legs and talons to stomp and capture their prey.”
It is absolutely correct that secretary birds are carnivorous raptors that are active during the day. They have a diverse diet and are known for their ability to kill snakes in the African grasslands. Interestingly, secretary birds are mainly terrestrial and hunt their prey on foot. They are known to cover long distances of up to 18 miles (30 km) daily while searching for food such as insects and other animals.
Secretary birds have a varied diet that includes not only snakes like Adders and Cobras, but also lizards, amphibians, rodents, and bird eggs. They tend to eat small animals whole, while larger prey is first stamped to death before being consumed. To catch their prey, secretary birds use their big, stout-toed feet to stamp on the ground and flush out any hiding creatures.
According to Connolly, capturing photos of secretary birds poses similar challenges to those faced by other wildlife photographers. Due to their quick movements, it can be difficult to capture clear and focused images of the birds. Though they may resemble friendly storks, secretary birds are actually birds of prey that can reach heights of up to 4.5 feet (1.35 m), weigh 7.3 pounds (3.3 kg), and boast wingspans of over 6.5 feet (2 m). Their hooked beaks and relatively small heads, paired with light-bluish grey plumage and red faces, make them a distinct species of bird. While they lack grasping toes, their thick and blunt toes with short curved talons on the ends are powerful tools for hunting and dealing with prey.
Secretary birds like to live in open grasslands, savannas with scattered trees, and steppe. They can hunt more easily in these areas as the grass is shorter. Their nests are made from long, flat twigs and grass and can be found in Acacia or thorn trees. These nests can grow bigger each year. Secretary birds sleep in their nests after hunting and they avoid forests and dense shrubberies as these areas limit their movement.
During courtship, ostriches engage in a mutual exhibition of chasing each other with their wings spread out and back, similar to how they behave when pursuing prey on the ground. They mate either on the ground or in their sizeable nests located high up in Acacia trees. After 2-3 days, the female lays 2-3 oval-shaped eggs. The eggs have a rough texture and require an additional 45-50 days of incubation by the female.
At the age of 60 days, these fledglings start to flap their wings and around 80 days old, they start growing their wing feathers. Although they still stay in their nests most of the time, they accompany their parents on hunting expeditions to learn from them.
The secretary bird is a fascinating creature renowned in Africa for its remarkable looks and skill in handling pests and snakes. It’s so impressive that it has become an emblem of Sudan and a part of the coat of arms of South Africa.