The plumage of the secretary bird is mostly grey with some white. Their flight feathers are black and they have a crest of black-tipped feathers lining the back of their head. They have patches of exposed skin around their eyes and bill that is a bright orange or reddish color. They have a strong, hooked bill. Their tail is long and has two elongated central retrices that are black-tipped.
The name "secretary bird" was long thought to have been derived from the elaborate feathers that adorn the back of the bird's head, since these feathers resemble the quill feathers that are used as pens. But the true origin of the name remains unclear, another possible explanation of the name "secretary bird" is that it was derived from the Arabic phrase "saqr-et-tair" or "hunter-bird".
Secretary birds build a platform nest at the top of an acaia (or similar) tree. The nest is contructed out of sticks and lined with softer material. Females lay 1 to 3 eggs over the course of several days. Both parents share in the incubation of the eggs which lasts between 42 to 46 days. The youngest of the clutch often dies due to starvation (since the chicks hatch at intervals of several days, the youngest is ill equiped to compete with its larger siblings for its share of the food). Young fledge after 64 to 106 days.
Juvenile secretary birds fall prey to other birds such as owls, kites, crows, hornbills and ravens.
Size and Weight:
Adults often join together to hunt in pairs or small flocks. Secretary birds feed on small mammals (such as mice, hedghogs, rats, hares and mongoose) as well as reptiles (snakes, turtles and lizards), birds and insects.
Secretary birds locate prey by looking for movement on the ground. When prey is detected, they corner it by digging and stomping on the clumps of grass and vegetation in which prey might be hiding. They then capture any prey that they can flush out.
To kill their prey, secretary birds often stomp on it or strike it with their sharply hooked bill. In most cases, prey is usually swallowed whole. Occassionally secretary birds will tear their prey into smaller pieces in order to swallow it more easily.
After feeding, secretary birds regurgitate pellets to expel fur, bones and other indigestible material.