Today we have an unusual bird that is most frequently known as a secretary bird (suggested by Guest Doodlewasher, Kathrin Werner). The scientific name for this one is a sagittarius serpentarius, which translates to “Archer of Snakes” because snakes make up a small portion of their diet. They kill their prey by stomping the crap out of it and, in the case of snakes, ensuring the snakes are quite dead as they aren’t immune to snake poison. The name is thought to come from bits of its appearance that made it resemble a 19th century secretary. Back then, secretaries or clerks were all male, often wore tailcoats and knickerbocker trousers, and placed their quill pens behind their ears.

I opted to just doodlewash the face, although the entire bird is odd looking and can be as tall as 4 to 5 feet (1.2 – 1.5 meters) with a wingspan of 7 feet (2.1 meters). But it was the extra long L’Oreal lashes that fascinated me. These combined with the excessive feather plumage make the secretary bird look like it’s about to a perform in a burlesque show. Although these birds are very good at flying they spend most of their time walking around and strutting their stuff, so it’s not as far-fetched as it might sound.

Usually, these birds will mate for life, finding their mate and settling down in the same little nest and sharing domestic responsibilities and child rearing equally (which might seem strange to many human couples). They remain very close once bonded and will rarely leave one another’s sight.  It’s a rather noisy little household as these are loud animals that produce croaks, whistles, groans and clucks, particularly during their courtship or, in rare instances, while performing burlesque. If you have an idea for an uncommon creature, be sure to shout it out in the comments!

About the Doodlewash

M. Graham watercolors: Azo Orange, Quinacridone Gold, Pyrrol Red, Cobalt Teal, Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue, Neutral Tint and Titanium White Gouache. Lamy Safari Al Star pen with Platinum Carbon black ink in a 5″ x 8″ 140 lb. (300 gsm) Pentalic Aqua Journal

Posted by:Charlie O'Shields (doodlewash)

Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world!

56 replies on “The Secretary Bird

  1. where do these crazy little creatures live charlie o? This one sort of resembles an admin i once knew – lol! just teasing. Lovely doodlewash and fun facts! I love that they stomp the crap out of snakes to avoid the poisonous venom. Not sure I would take that risk! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. These guys are endemic to Africa! The birds…not the clerks they’re named for. Those were English. Lol Thanks Jodi! 😃💕 They’re cool birds… Just had to google a video of them stomping a snake and they’re actually rather elegant doing it. The eating part is super gross though! Haha

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  2. Love this one, Charlie – I think I’ve vaguely heard the name somewhere, but had no clue what they looked like. So they don’t do all your paperwork and take phone calls for you? Bummer, I was totally gonna get one😉 Sigh. Even so, I too am very much liking those ‘L’Oreal Lashes’ – hahaha! – and the feathery headdress is terrific… equally terrifically doodlewashed, aswell! Just look into those eyes, though… she means serious business (but not secretarial business, as we’ve established!)

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    1. Thanks Jacob!! Glad you liked this! Yeah…I wouldn’t mess with her…she’ll stomp you! And sadly, no, these creatures aren’t as helpful as they sound. They’re just into looking pretty and stomping things. I guess if you had a snake problem, they’d be a go to pet, but your paperwork would stay sadly incomplete. 😉

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  3. Yes, I think I knew that admin too! LOL. Had quite a good laugh, and an education at the same time. I checked out the photos on the internet. That bird looks as though it was assembled from spare parts along the evolutionary trail! Quite amazing!

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  4. Oh, yes, in Charles Dickens’ time, the male clerk/secretary usually looked like a beaky bird, keeping the secrets from you; I had always wondered about the name. For me, it is really all about the Medusa…snakes, you know…!!

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      1. Next time you’re out and about in the streets, and sitting on the footpath having a coffee, just study the faces as they go by and decide whether that one looks like a piggy, or this one looks like a hawk, and so on. You’ll be surprised at how many of our non-human animal/bird relations you can recognise in Man! It’s fun! I do it all the time. 🙂

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  5. ‘ […] (which might seem strange to many human couples).’: All my life, this being one the oddest thing about human couples to understand. I guess we can all take a great example from this odd looking bird, as it’s definitely got the ‘sharing’ part of life right.🙂 lovely doodlewash, and I really adore your writing style.

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  6. You are a font of information Charlie. I guess being a 5 foot tall bird with (I assume) big feet has its advantages…although, as you point out, this one could also have a future on stage and screen. Can it dance as well as sing? (K)

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  7. I’ve seen a secretary bird somewhere, Charlie, something in the back of my mind is telling me so… although I get the feeling it was in a cartoon many years ago. The eyelashes stood out to me in your painting.

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  8. He or she is a fabulous bird! Can you imagine seeing one of these somewhere in Africa! So exotic. Your rendering is wonderful Charlie! And “stomping the crap” got me laughing quite hard. I always love your posts, good dose of seriousness mixed with humor! Thank you for being so incredibly dedicated and talented!

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  9. Beautiful eye lashes! No need for any mascara.. Lol. I’m going to have to look for a video of them stomping their prey.. Amazing that they can fly.. I love the headdress.. So very proper! Ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Have always loved the Secretary Bird, the looks, the regal name “sagittarius serpentarius”, the legs that seem to go on forever…and now, your beautiful painting and delightfully entertaining bio, is going on the list of why I adore this bird. Will probably be giggling the rest of the day over the “stomping” description. Thank you for a lovely treat.

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