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Secretary Bird

A large and distinctive bird of prey, the secretary bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is said to take its unusual name from the strange and distinguishing arrangement of feathers on the back of its neck. This long, raised crest of black, spatula-shaped feathers is said to give the secretary bird the appearance of an old-fashioned secretary who would carry quill-pens tucked behind the ears. More recently, the case has been put forward that the name may actually be derived from the Arabic saqr-et-tairSaqr means ‘hunter’ or ‘hawk’ and tair means ‘flight’ or ‘bird’, and the translation to French may have resulted in the common name that is used today. Unique not only for its name, the secretary bird stands out because of its distinct profile, quite unlike that of any other bird. The feathers on the body are generally grey across the back and paler towards the rump and breast, while the belly, thighs and flight feathers are all black. The underwings are white. The eyes are brown and are surrounded by bare facial skin that is a deep orange-red, and the bill is blue-grey. The secretary bird also has long, bare legs, which resemble those of a crane but are much more powerful, and end in small, stubby pink toes. Juvenile secretary birds are very similar to the adult, but are grey-eyed, with more brown in the plumage, a shorter tail and a yellow face, until the first moult. Although it can fly, the secretary bird prefers to move around on foot and can cover 30 km a day, earning it the title ‘Africa’s marching eagle’. A large bird of prey, the secretary bird feeds mainly on large insects and small mammals, which it often stamps on before swallowing whole. The secretary bird is a nomadic species and will often travel far and wide in search of food and other resources.

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