AppearanceThe Secretary Bird is instantly recognizable as having an eagle-like body on crane-like legs which increases the bird’s height to as much as 1.3 m tall. This bird has an eagle-like head with a hooked bill, but has rounded wings. Body weight can range from 2.3 to 4.5 kg and height is 90–130 cm. Total length from 112 to 152 cm and the wingspan is 191–220 cm. The tarsus of the secretary bird averages 31 cm and the tail is 57–85 cm, both of which factor into making them both taller and longer than any other species of raptor. The neck is not especially long, and can only be lowered down to the inter-tarsal joint, so birds reaching down to the ground or drinking must stoop to do so.
From a distance or in flight it resembles a crane more than a bird of prey. The tail has two elongated central feathers that extend beyond the feet during flight, as well as long flat plumage creating a posterior crest. Secretary Bird flight feathers and thighs are black, while most of the coverts are grey with some being white. Sexes look similar to one another as the species exhibits very little sexual dimorphism, although the male has longer head plumes and tail feathers. Adults have a featherless red face as opposed to the yellow facial skin of the young.
HabitatSecretary Birds are endemic to Sub-Saharan Africa and are non-migratory, though they may follow food sources. Their range extends from Senegal to Somalia and south to the Cape of Good Hope. These birds are also found at a variety of elevations, from the coastal plains to the highlands. Secretary Birds prefer open grasslands and savannas rather than forests and dense shrubbery which may impede their cursorial existence. While the birds roost on the local ''Acacia'' trees at night, they spend much of the day on the ground, returning to roosting sites just before dark.
FoodThe Secretary Bird is largely terrestrial, hunting its prey on foot, and other than the caracara , is the only bird of prey to do so habitually. Adults hunt in pairs and sometimes as loose familial flocks, stalking through the habitat with long strides. Prey may consist of insects, mammals ranging in size from mice to hares and mongoose, crabs, lizards, snakes, tortoises, young birds, bird eggs, and sometimes dead animals killed in grass or bush fires. Larger herbivores are not generally hunted, although there are some reports of Secretary Birds killing young gazelles. The importance of snakes in the diet has been exaggerated in the past, although they can be locally important and venomous species such as adders and cobras are regularly among the types of snake predated.
Prey is often discovered by the secretarybirds via stomping on clumps on vegetation, which then flushes prey for them to capture. It also waits near fires, eating anything it can that is trying to escape. They can either catch prey by chasing it and striking with the bill and swallowing , or stamping on prey until it is rendered stunned or unconscious enough to swallow. Studies of this latter strategy have helped reconstruct the possible feeding mechanisms employed by the gigantic 'terror birds' that lived between sixty and five million years ago. Larger or dangerous prey, such as venomous snakes, are instead stunned or killed by the bird jumping onto their backs, at which point they will try to snap their necks or backs. There is some reports that, when capturing snakes, the secretarybirds will take flight with their prey and then drop them to their death, although this has not been verified. Even with larger prey, food is generally swallowed whole through the birds' considerable gape. Occasionally, like other raptors, they will tear apart prey with their feet before consuming it.
Young are fed liquefied and regurgitated insects directly by the male or female parent and are eventually weaned to small mammals and reptile fragments regurgitated onto the nest itself. The above foodstuffs are originally stored in the crop of the adults.
In hunting and feeding on small animals and arthropods on the ground and in tall grass or scrub, Secretary Birds occupy an ecological niche similar to that occupied by peafowl in South and Southeast Asia, roadrunners in North and Central America and seriemas in South America.
PredatorsThe young are preyed upon by crows, ravens, hornbills, large owls and kites as they are vulnerable in ''Acacia'' tree tops, with no known incidents of predation on adults. As a population, the Secretary Bird is mainly threatened by loss of habitat and deforestation. In 1968 the species became protected under the Africa Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Nevertheless the species is still widespread across Africa, and has adapted well to arable land where prey animals such as rodents are more common than in traditional habitat. The species is well represented in protected areas as well.
CulturalThe Secretary Bird has traditionally been admired in Africa for its striking appearance and ability to deal with pests and snakes. Africans sometimes call it the Devil's Horse. As such it has often not been disturbed, although this is changing as traditional observances have declined.
The Secretary Bird is the national emblem of Sudan as well as a prominent feature on the Coat of arms of South Africa.
In Sudan, it is featured in the middle white strip of the Presidential Flag; it is the main object on the Presidential Seal, and features heavily in Sudanese military insignia. The Secretary Bird on the Presidential Flag and Seal has its head turned to the right, with its distinctive crest clearly visible and its wings spread out with a white banner between its outstretched wings reading "Victory is Ours".
In South Africa, the Secretary Bird, while not the official bird, is featured as a symbol on the national coat of arms, representing vigilance and military might, as well as the rise and pride of modern South Africa.
The Secretary Bird has been a common motif for African countries on postage stamps, over 65 stamps from about 30 countries are known as of date including some from stamp-issuing entities such as Ajman, Manama. the Maldives and the United Nations where the bird does not occur.
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