Scientifically referred to as Sagittarius serpentarius, the secretary bird is a large terrestrial dwelling bird of prey thriving in the savannah and open grassland of sub-Saharan Africa including the destination Uganda where it is often explored on Uganda birding safaris and tours.
The secretary bird features its own family called Sagittariidae even though it’s a member of Accipitriformes Order that includes many diurnal raptors like hawks, kites, harriers and vultures. It derives its name from the bath of long quill-like feathers which makes it appear like traditional secretaries that had pens tucked behind their ears.
It is a notable large bird marked with a body that is similar to that of an eagle with long legs that make its height to reach 1.3m tall. The secretary bird features a hooked bill and rounded wings with a wingspan of 191 – 220cm. The weight ranges from 2.3 – 5kg. The tail of the secretary bird features two (2) extended central feathers that stretch beyond the feet during the flight. Its flight feathers and the thighs are black and the sexes are almost similar as often viewed on birding safaris in Uganda.
Regarding diet, the Secretary bird hunts its prey on foot where the adult do the hunting in pairs or at times in loose family flocks. It consumes insects, mammals of various sizes ranging from mice to hare, crabs, lizards, tortoises, snakes, bird eggs and young birds.
The secretary birds live in monogamous pairs and mating occurs on ground or in Acacia trees. The nests are constructed at 5 – 7m height on Acacia trees and both sexes visit the nest for a range of six (6) months before the egg laying occurs. The nest is often 30cm deep and 2.5m wide. Two (2) – three (3) oval shaped pale green eggs in a range of 2 – 3 days are laid and the incubation takes about 45 days after which they are hatched.
The Secretary birds are limited in range of the sub-Saharan Africa and are recorded as non-migratory species but can at times follow sources of food. Their range stretches from Mauritania to the semi-arid lands of Somalia before sloping to extreme South African end popularly known as the Cape of Good Hope.
The secretary birds are threatened by habitat loss but still thrive in a range of protected areas including the Uganda Safari National Park of Murchison Falls National Park. It is listed as vulnerable on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).