If seen lying down, the secretary bird looks like a medium-sized eagle. The forward-looking eyes and large hooked bill lends the bird an impressive face that yells “hunter!” But once the bird stands up, his face is probably the last thing you would look at. Standing at full height, secretary birds can be four feet tall (1.2 meters).
The secretary bird probably developed such long legs because they help him hunt in the grasslands of Africa. In the bird’s range, there are not a lot of good perching trees where many eagles sit and wait for their food. The tall grass also hides their natural prey (small mammals, snakes, and even large insects), so the best way to find some grub is to get down and dirty in the grass itself. Now think how hard it would be for a bald eagle to “run” through 3-foot-tall grass! But take a look at a secretary bird’s legs, and I’ll bet you can imagine how quickly that bird could run through a field. Then, a good kick or two from their powerful legs either kills or stuns its prey.
The secretary bird that is on exhibit at Elephant Odyssey has been in our collection since before he hatched, but he certainly hasn’t stayed in one place for very long. He was laid in the summer of ‘08 at the Wild Animal Park, hatched and cared for at the Zoo until he fledged, then lived the rest of his first year back at the Park. He came to live at the Zoo when he was about one year old.
If you have not yet seen our terrestrial raptor, he is in the exhibit behind you when you are looking into the Elephant Care Center. He may be lying down in the warm sun, hunting insects that fly into his aviary, or sleeping in his nest at the top of the tree. You may also notice that he has a couple of friends in there with him, too. These black-billed magpies are common in the western U.S. and are quite the busy, intelligent little Corvids (crow family) worthy of their own blog!
Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Hornbills Share a Meal.