Secretary Birds (Sagittaruis serpentarius) are endemic to the grasslands and open savannas of sub-Saharan Africa. Should you be fortunate enough to spot one in the veld, look around very carefully for its mate might be foraging some distance away. They are known to pair for life.
These unique, elegant, long-legged birds stand out from their surroundings, yet do not dilly-dally if you see one in the distance for they can walk surprisingly fast in search of food.
They are known to cover up to 30 km a day in search of food, which includes not only snakes, but tortoises and rats, as well as the chicks of ground-nesting birds.
The crest of 20 long black feathers is distinctive as is the bare face which is usually yellow, orange or red. The body is covered in whitish-grey feathers, with two long, black-tipped tail feathers. Their wingspan has been measured up to 2.10 meters. If you look at them closely you will also notice their long eye-lashes and hooked beak.
They bend down to seize smaller food items in their bill, but stamp on more agile prey with the thickened soles of their feet, stunning it and then swallowing it whole. Akin to Ostriches, Secretary Birds ingest pebbles to aid their digestion. Even though they are mostly seen on the ground, Secretary Birds choose to nest in trees.
Sadly, even though they were declared a protected species in 1968, these magnificent birds are in decline, mostly due to habit destruction and they are susceptible to collisions with both power lines and fences. I have mostly seen Secretary Birds in our national parks, but was very excited to see one on the edge of town during the course of last year.