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Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Attribute Value
Body Weight 2300 – 4270 gm (5 - 9.4 lbs)
Height 1.2 m tall (~4 ft)
Wing Span 2.12 m (83.5 in, 7 ft)

General Appearance

General

  • Looks like and behaves like a long-legged eagle
  • Wide wings with greatly elongated central tail feathers

Head

  • Long neck
  • Thick, curved, pale gray beak
  • Bare orange face
  • Eye color varies from yellow to dark brown
    • Chick - brown
    • Juvenile - gray
    • Adult - hazel

Legs and feet

  • Long pink legs, heavily scaled
  • Short, blunt, partially webbed toes with thick claws (adapted for walking rather than grasping or carrying prey)

Plumage

  • Black erectile crest feathers are most distinctive feature
  • Gray plumage on upper body
    • Grey above, white below with black flight feathers
  • Black feathers covering abdomen and thighs down to knee joint
  • Juveniles similar to adults, with grey barring on the white underwing and undertail coverts
    • Paler face, brown edges to the grey dorsal feathers

Sexual Dimorphism

  • Sexes almost identical, with female slightly larger and male with longer crest and tail feathers.
  • Males usually identifiable by their:
    • More blue-grey upperparts
    • More developed crest with some grey feathers
    • Proportionately longer central tail feathers
    • More rounded head
    • Less extensive bare facial skin behind the eye

Standing Tall

Secretary Bird standing

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Kemp (1994, 1995)
Tarboton (1990)

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