Osprey & Secretary Bird

These two species are related to other diurnal raptors but distantly. There exact classification is uncertain and different authors place them at different levels. Generally the Osprey is seperated at Family level (within Accipitriformes), while the Secretary Bird is placed in a seperate Order (see Taxonomy Notes).


The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is classified within the Acciptiformes Order and in one species family: Pandionidae. They are well known as they catch fish, but are not directly related to the Fish-eating Eagles (Haliaeetus). They once were common throughout the UK but have declined and become restricted to the lochs of Scotland. Since 1999 they have been reintroduced to England (see British Raptors) and have since naturally dispersed and bred in Wales and the Lake District.

The Osprey is highly adapted for catching fish. Dense, oily feathers provide protection to prevent water logging. They have unusually long legs with a rough under surface to hold on to a slippery wriggling fish. Their outer toe is reversible, so they can have two pointing forward and two back to help in carrying the prey- no other diurnal raptor can do this. The talons are also highly curved compared with other raptors.

They are native to all continents (except Antarctica) and most are migratory. In North America and Europe they migrate to South America and Africa respectively. The young are the only known raptor to not return in the first summer but spend it in their wintering grounds. They tend not to move back to their hatch locations until their third year. This is a very sensible strategy as they do not waste energy in migration when they are not mature for breeding. It may be that other long lived raptors that take a few years to mature may also use this strategy, but have not been recorded.

Secretary Bird

This species (Sagittarius serpentarius) originates from central and southern Africa and is classified in its own order: Sagittariiformes. They have extremely long legs and stand over one metre tall (1.2m or 4ft). The long legs give them amazing power to stamp on and kill snakes. Their body height above the ground also gives them protection from a biting snake along with the thick scales on their legs. These birds’ major diet is actually large insects but they do eat poisonous snakes as readily as non-poisonous ones and also attacks lizards, tortoises, small mammals and baby birds. It is also a good flier and roosts at night by folding its long legs beneath the body. Their nests are a mass of random sticks built at the top of a tree. They usually lay 2 or 3 eggs which take around 6 weeks to hatch. The chicks have quite short legs when they first hatch. The young fledge around 3 months old and stay with the parents for a similar time.

This species gets its name from the large feathers sticking out above its head. In the 18th century the clerks would have the habit of sticking their goose-feather quills in their wigs. This resembles the bird with its long black feathers from the back of the head.