With all its important look, the bird secretary shows that she really occupies a solid and necessary position, and her black and white attire matches the office dress code. This African bird of prey has won the respect of the locals due to its food habits, because the bird eats a huge variety of snakes. Let’s characterize this unusual predator by studying its habits, external features, disposition and places of permanent deployment.
Origin of the species and description
The secretary bird belongs to the hawk-like order and the secretary family of the same name, of which it is the only representative. It owes its name to its unusual appearance and characteristic habits. The bird likes to step sedately and shake its black feathers located on the back of the head, showing its significance and importance. These black feathers are very similar to the goose feathers that court clerks are known to put into their wigs.
Video: Secretary bird
In addition to its extraordinary external features, the feathered one became famous as an inexorable slayer of snakes. Because of this, Africans treat the secretary bird with great respect, it even serves as a decoration for the coats of arms of states such as South Africa and Sudan. The bird is depicted with large wings spread wide, which symbolize the protection of the country and the superiority of the African people over all sorts of ill-wishers. The secretary’s bird was first described by the French doctor, zoologist, naturalist Johann Hermann back in 1783.
Besides the secretary, this bird has other nicknames:
The dimensions of the secretary bird are very impressive for birds, its body reaches a length of one and a half meters, and its mass is not so big – about four kilograms. But its wingspan is amazing – it goes beyond two meters in length.
Interesting fact: There is another version of the origin of the bird’s name, different from the one described above. Some believe that the feathered bird was so named by the French colonists, who heard the Arabic name of the “hunter bird”, which sounds like “sacr-e-tair” and called it in French “secrétaire”, which means “secretary” in translation.
Appearance and Features
The secretary bird is distinguished not only by its rather large size, but also by its entire appearance as a whole, unlike anyone else. Unless sometimes they are confused with herons or cranes, and then, from afar, near they are not at all similar. The coloring of the secretary’s bird is rather restrained; you will not see different colors here. The tones are dominated by gray-white and the closer to the tail, the darker the background becomes, turning into a completely black tint. The black edging adorns the mighty wings of the secretaries, and black feather trousers are visible on the legs.
The proportions of the feathered body are quite unusual: you can see large powerful wings and long, like a model, stilted legs. Without a sufficient run, the bird cannot take off, so it runs decently, developing a speed of more than thirty kilometers per hour. Wings of such huge size make it possible to silently soar in height, as if freezing in the air.
Compared to the body, the head of these birds is not too large. The area around the eyes is colored orange, but this is not due to feathers, but due to the fact that they are completely absent in that place, so a reddish-orange skin is visible. The bird has a fairly long neck, which often arches importantly. Large beautiful eyes and a hook-shaped beak testify to her predatory nature.
Interesting fact: The long black feathers at the back of the head, which are the calling card of secretary birds, can give away males, because during the wedding season they are raised upright.
Long and delicate the limbs of the secretary bird have rather short fingers, which are equipped with very hard, massive, blunt claws. Their feathered successfully uses as a weapon in a fight with snakes. It should be noted that such bird weapons work flawlessly, giving a huge advantage over creeping ones.
Where does the secretary bird live?
The secretary bird is an exclusively African resident; it is endemic to this hot mainland. It is not possible to meet her anywhere else except Africa. The feathered settlement area extends from Senegal, reaching Somalia, then covers territories a little further south, ending at the southernmost point – the Cape of Good Hope.
The secretary avoids wooded areas and desert areas. Here it is inconvenient for him to hunt, the forest closes the all-round view from a height, and the bird silently soars, examining the surroundings not only in order to detect a snack, but also to protect its nesting site. In addition, the bird needs sufficient space to make a run, without which it is not able to take off, and bushes and trees in the forest serve as an obstacle to this. Secretaries don’t like the desert climate either.
First of all, these mighty birds inhabit the spacious savannahs and African meadows, here the territories allow you to scatter properly, take off, and survey the ground situation from a height, skillfully soaring in the skies. From human settlements and cultivated agricultural land, the secretary bird tries to stay away in order to avoid looting nests, because. local residents make a living by stealing bird eggs, which they eat. So, populations of these birds are rarely found near human dwellings.
What does the secretary bird eat?
The secretary bird can rightly be called a thunderstorm of all snakes, because creeping ones are her favorite delicacy.
In addition to snakes, the feathered menu consists of:
- small mammals (mice, hares, hedgehogs, mongooses, rats);
- all kinds of insects (scorpions, beetles, praying mantises, spiders, grasshoppers);
- bird eggs;
- lizards and baby turtles.
Interesting fact: There are whole legends about the insatiability of secretary birds. There is a known case that two pairs of lizards, three snakes and 21 small turtles were found simultaneously in a bird’s goiter.
It should be noted that the secretary bird perfectly adapted to land life, to hunt, taking off from the ground, it turns out just fine. In a day, in search of food, birds can walk up to thirty kilometers. The ability to catch even dangerous and poisonous snakes shows the mind and courage of a feathered one.
Snakes, when fighting with a bird, try to inflict their toxic bite on it, but the secretary bravely defends himself, fighting off reptile attacks with the help of his powerful wings, similar to large shields. The duel can be quite long, but, in the end, a good moment comes when the secretary presses the snake’s head with his strong leg and pecks it right in the head area, which leads to death of the reptile.
Interesting fact: With the help of long limbs and a powerful beak, the secretary bird easily breaks turtle shells.
Secretary birds have their own hunting techniques to help locate the victim. During a round of her land holdings, she begins to make a lot of noise, flapping her huge wings and frightening small animals. Rodents leave their burrows out of fear and try to escape, and then a cunning bird catches them. Even the feathered one can trample strongly in those places where it sees unusual bumps, which also drives rodents to the surface.
During fires that occur in the territories of the savannas, the secretary bird continues to hunt for its meal. When all the animals flee from the fire, she stubbornly waits for her small prey in the form of small mammals, which she immediately catches and eats. Having crossed the firing line, the secretary looks for already burnt carcasses of animals on the ashes, which he also snacks on.
Now you know everything about the secretary’s bird hunting for a snake. Let’s find out more about the habits of this interesting bird.
Character and Lifestyle Features
The secretary bird spends most of its time walking on the ground; in flight it can be seen infrequently. This usually occurs during the wedding season and the nesting season. The bird flies excellently, only before the start it needs to accelerate, and it gains height gradually, slowly, spreading its mighty wings. Usually feathered fathers soar in height, guarding their nests from above.
Secretary birds can be called faithful and loving, because they create a couple for life. And the life span, measured by nature, is about 12 years. In watering places and where there is a lot of food, secretaries can briefly form bird groups. The way of life of these birds can be called nomadic, because in search of food they constantly move to new places, but always return to their nesting place.
Birds hunt on the ground, but they prefer to rest and build nests in trees. It should be noted that these birds have excellent ingenuity, because for different types of prey, they have all kinds of tactics. Some of them have already been described, but there are more. For example, when hunting for snakes, seeing a creeping one, the bird begins to make ingenious dashes in different directions, constantly changing the vector of its movement. Thus, it misleads the prey, the snake starts to feel dizzy from this running around, it loses its orientation and soon becomes an excellent snack.
In the wild conditions of communication with a person, a mature secretary bird tries to avoid. Seeing people, she immediately leaves, taking wide steps that smoothly turn into a run, and then the bird leaves the ground, rushing up. The young of these birds are easily tamed and can coexist peacefully with people.
Interesting fact: Africans purposefully breed these birds on their farms so that secretaries protect poultry from dangerous snakes and catch harmful rodents.
Social structure and reproduction
The wedding period for secretary birds is directly related to the rainy season, so it is impossible to name a specific time of its arrival. As already noted, these birds live in family pairs, which are formed for the entire bird’s life span. Feathered gentlemen are real romantics who are ready to take care of their chosen one, conquering her with a beautiful soaring flight, mating dance, extravagant song. Performing all these tricks in front of his partner, the male constantly makes sure that no stranger invades his possessions, jealously protecting the female.
Coition most often occurs on the surface of the earth, and sometimes in the branches of trees. After mating, the future father does not leave his beloved, but shares with her all the hardships of family life, from building a nest to raising chicks. The secretaries build a bird’s nest in the branches of an acacia, it looks like a large platform of two meters in diameter, it looks impressive and heavy.
The following are used for construction:
- grass stems;
- woolen pieces of animal fur;
- twigs, etc.
Fun fact: secretaries use the same bird’s nest for many years, always returning to it during the wedding season.
The clutch of secretary birds has no more than three eggs, which are pear-shaped and bluish-whitish. The incubation period lasts about 45 days, all this time the future father goes hunting alone to feed himself and his partner. The process of hatching chicks from eggs does not occur simultaneously, but alternately. The earlier the egg was laid, the faster the baby hatches from it. The difference in age between chicks can be up to several days. The chances of survival are greater for those who left the shell first.
The development of secretary chicks is slow. These feathered babies get on their feet only closer to six weeks of age, and closer to 11 weeks old they begin to try to make their first clumsy flights. Feathered parents tirelessly care for their babies, regaling them with regurgitated, half-cooked meat at first, gradually moving to raw meat, which they tear into small pieces with their large beak.
Natural enemies of secretary birds
It just so happened that in the natural wild environment, mature birds have practically no secretaries of enemies. The most vulnerable are the chicks of these birds, which develop very slowly. Crows and African eagle owls can steal chicks from extensive and open nests. This usually happens when parents go out in search of food.
Do not forget that the babies hatch gradually and those who were the first have more chances of survival, because they get much more food. It happens that immature chicks, trying to imitate their parents, jump out of their nests. Then the chances of surviving on the surface of the earth are significantly reduced, because here they can become the prey of any predators. Parents still take care of the fallen cub, feeding it on the ground, but most often such feathered babies die. The survival statistics of secretary chicks is disappointing – out of three, only one feathered bird usually survives.
The enemies of secretary birds can also include people who are settling in more and more African territories, displacing birds from their places of permanent deployment. Plowing land, laying roads, grazing also harm birds, making them anxious and looking for new places to live. Africans sometimes destroy the nests of birds, seizing from them the eggs that are already few in number, which they eat. No wonder secretary birds try to stay away from human settlements.
Population and species status
Despite the fact that the people of Africa revere the secretary bird because it kills a huge number of dangerous snakes and rodents, its population is steadily declining. This is due to various negative factors. Firstly, small clutches of these birds can be added here, because usually the female lays only three eggs, and this is very small. Secondly, the survival rate of chicks is very low, out of three most often only one lucky one paves the way to life.
This is due not only to the attack of various predatory birds, but also to the fact that in the arid savannahs of the African continent birds often lack food, so parents can only feed one child. Often, to feed the young, secretaries kill large prey, the meat of which is saved by tearing off small pieces to stretch for a longer time. They hide the carcass in dense bushes.
In addition to all of the above reasons for the decline in the number of secretary birds, there are other negative factors, mainly of human nature. This is due to the fact that Africans eat the eggs of these birds, destroying their nests. Also, the growth of spaces occupied by people for their own needs has a bad effect on the size of the bird population, because there are fewer and fewer places for a calm and serene habitat. It is sad to understand, but all this has led to the fact that this species of amazing birds is endangered, and therefore needs to be protected.
Secretary Bird Conservation
As noted earlier, the situation with the number of secretary birds is unfavorable, the number of these birds is steadily decreasing, and birds are threatened with complete extinction. In this regard, back in 1968, the secretary bird was taken under the protection of the African Convention for the Protection of Nature.
An amazing and rare secretary bird is listed in the International Red List of the IUCN, its species has the status of vulnerable. First of all, the reason for this is the uncontrolled human intervention in the places of permanent residence of these birds, which leads to a reduction in the territories of bird habitat, because all of them are gradually occupied by people. Poaching in the form of ruining nests also takes place, although the bird is treated with respect because of its food addictions that save people from dangerous snakes and rodents.
Interesting fact: Ancient Africans believed , if you take a feather of a secretary’s bird with you for hunting, then any dangerous snakes will not be afraid of a person, because they will not crawl close.
People should be more careful and careful about this unique bird, because it brings them great benefits, getting rid of various snakes and pests. Why shouldn’t a person save birds from threats and dangers, first of all, from their own side?!
In conclusion, I would like to add that the animal world never ceases to amaze us, because it is filled with such amazing and unlike creatures , including the secretary bird, which is so unique, unusual and original. It remains only to hope for humanity in human actions so that the secretary bird continues to exist.