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Walking with measured pace over the short grass plains of the Serengeti (and Maasai Mara) the Secretary Bird simply exudes elegance and style. It is large, softly gray, with long legs, long tail, and an array of disheveled feather erupting from its ferociously beaked head. The long legs are half pale pinkish-red skin drawn tightly over bone and half intensely black pantaloons. The Secretary Bird is an icon bird of East Africa and one that is quite unexpectedly carnivorous when watched closely.
But before looking at the Secretary Bird more closely I will point out two other large birds of the grasslands; the Common Ostrich and the Kori Bustard.
There are also many herons, cranes, spoonbills, and storks scattered over the great grasslands of this region. But the Secretary Bird is really at home here – many of the others are seasonal and often weather dependent. The Secretary Bird has often been classified as a “raptor” and is sometimes called the “eagle of the savannas”. Its current taxonomy has it as the only member of a taxonomical family called Sagittariidae. Aside from its confident carriage and royal demeanor on the grasslands it is best known for a loose array of head feathers that look like the quill pens that clerks and secretaries stuck in their hair and wigs in the 19th century. It was named in an era when those writing quills were used, well before ballpoint pens and graphite pencils. But, they are hunters and the following images will confirm that. They are known for finding snakes and pummeling them with a “fisted” foot. However I have never seen them eat anything except large insects and occasionally (twice really) kill and devour a Savanna Hare – a rather large rabbit.