The Secretary Bird

Secretary Bird Doodlewash - watercolor sketch of white bird with black feathers in sketchboook

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

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! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!
Published in By Charlie
56 Comments
  1. kungfunaomi 2 years ago

    He was scared out of his wits like Linus from Charlie Brown.

  2. Jodi 2 years ago

    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! 🙂

    • Author

      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

  3. Jacob 2 years ago

    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!)

    • Author

      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. 😉

      • Jacob 2 years ago

        Haha, I’d feel so bad sending my poor secretary bird out to fend off the vile snakes! But then I guess at least I wouldn’t have to go near them!

  4. Gayle 2 years ago

    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!

    • Author

      Lol…great description, Gayle…definitely an assemblage of spare parts! So many of this uncommon creatures are like that. They’re such a tall bird I think they’d freak me out to encounter in person! Hehe

  5. cindy knoke 2 years ago

    Wonderful! I have photos of these guys in Africa~

    • Author

      Thanks Cindy!! 😃💕Oh cool!! I’ve never been to Africa but it’s on my list to visit one day! So many wonderful creatures there!

  6. Teresa Robeson 2 years ago

    I was just reading something about secretary birds on Facebook but I can’t remember what it is now. *sigh* Your fellow has so much personality! And has lashes to make super models jealous. LOL! <3

    • Author

      Thanks Teresa!! 😃💕Haha…yeah…this one knows how to work it on the runway…supermodels beware!! Add in the “I only eat tic tacs for dinner” skinny legs and they would be super jealous indeed!

  7. Curious to the Max 2 years ago

    The Name’s the Game

    The “Secretary” bird, a sexist flaw
    well past time to burn her bra
    We now all know
    she should be a CEO

  8. Sharon Mann 2 years ago

    One of my favs so far, I love the hairdo. Wonderful drawing and doodlewash Charlie!

  9. Teri C 2 years ago

    Good choice for this cropped look. What a hairdo…or is that a featherdo

    • Author

      Oooooo…I like featherdo!! Lol Thanks Teri! 😃💕Yeah…I always like focusing on the face and when they’re sporting a cool do…all the better!! Hehe

  10. jmnowak 2 years ago

    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…!!

    • Author

      Oooo…they could have called this the Medusa bird! Hehe… They’re so fascinating and I can really see the clerk resemblance as you say! Hehe

      • jmnowak 2 years ago

        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. 🙂

      • Author

        Haha! Sounds like fun!! 😃

  11. Jill Kuhn 2 years ago

    It’s the eyes that grabbed my attention! Must be those extra long lashes… Hehe! Love this one, Charlie! 💕😃🎨👍🌈🌟

    • Author

      Hehe…cool lashes aren’t they?…”I’m too sexy for these feathers…too sexy for these feathers…” Lol It’s morning and I haven’t had my coffee yet. 😊 Thanks so much Jill!! 😃💕

      • Jill Kuhn 2 years ago

        You crack me up! 😄😂😜

  12. Great doodlewash….so that’s how they got their name, what a clever bird to get those snakes.

    • Author

      Thanks Rebecca!! 😃💕 That’s what they say on the name at least, but there are newer theories as well. They were just boring compared to the original! Hehe

  13. kathiwerner 2 years ago

    This is an awesome portrait – lovely L’oreal lashes, hehe! Great you choose it!

  14. babybluesnowflake 2 years ago

    ‘ […] (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.

    • Author

      Hehe…I think humans could learn a lot from animals. 😉 Awww thanks…I’m glad you liked my writing… and applied the word style to it. Hehe… Cool!! Thanks!! 😃

  15. memadtwo 2 years ago

    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)

  16. Tom Merriman 2 years ago

    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.

    • Author

      Thanks Tom!! 😃I’m sure these guys have made I into a cartoon! Hehe… Those eyelashes look like they were added by an animator!

  17. So beautifully done, Charlie. I’ve just spent a happy few minutes looking at this close up. I believe ‘stomping the crap out of it’ is indeed the scientific term for what they do.

    • Author

      Awww thanks, Michael!! I’m glad ya liked this one…it was fun to doodlewash. And haha… yeah…I’m always very scientific in my terminology!! 😉👍🏻

  18. Carmel Campbell 2 years ago

    Nicely painted. White can be a challenge to paint. Another interesting creature/bird!

  19. Cathe 2 years ago

    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!

    • Author

      Awww that’s so sweet of you, Cathe! 😀💕Thanks!! I can’t seem to stay completely serious for any length of time. It’s always been a problem for me. Lol So I’m glad you like these posts!

  20. Jill Holmes 2 years ago

    Love him, Charlie–and his giant attitude! Great job! He’s gorgeous. 👍

  21. Kari 2 years ago

    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!

    • Author

      You should! It’s so wild! And I have no idea how they get that curl without mascara! LOL Thanks so much Kari!😃💕

  22. artandmoondreams 2 years ago

    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.

    • Author

      hehe… so glad I made you smile, Haunani! 😃💕And happy you like this… it was much harder to doodlewash than I expected and I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out! 😊

  23. moonskittles 2 years ago

    You have done such a great job giving the bird a regale look!

    • Author

      Awww thanks! 😃With those eyelashes I figured it deserved to look like royalty! Hehe

      • moonskittles 2 years ago

        😀 LOL yes! true that! I am feeling special all of a sudden 😀

  24. Wow, what a cool bird, so striking Charlie! Love this one, bro! Really leaps out and grabs me from the screen. 💜💜💜

    • Author

      Thanks, sis! 😃💜 So glad you liked this!hehe…took be a little time to get into the flow of this one. And then as I started I realized I’d never really painted single feathers before. 😊 but that’s what makes this all so fun I guess!

  25. alwaysorneverforever 2 years ago

    Love the bird, r they real? Is that a phoenix or something?

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