Punk Rock Raptor

Final touches
“The trick to balancing fine art with science illustration,” says artist Jane Kim, “is finding a way to capture the energy and character of an animal while maintaining accuracy.” (Photo by Danza Chisholm-Sims/Ink Dwell)

The Bird

Can a bird be punk rock? With a mohawk of feathers down its head, a painted-red face, and a diet that includes cobras, the secretary-bird certainly fits the bill.

A rebellious deviation of evolution, the secretary is so unique that it’s one of just a handful of birds depicted in the Wall of Birds—a 70′ x 40′ mural at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology depicting the 375 million year evolution of birds–that demands classification in its very own family. Its scientific name, Sagittarius serpentarius, means “serpent-bearing archer,” a fitting designation given its arrow-like snake-crushing legs. Though a strong flier, it hunts on foot sometimes covering 20 miles a day.

The wall of birds depicts the 375 million year evolution of birds, showing 271 species drawn to scale. The historic mural will be the only one in the world showcasing all the families of modern birds in one place. (Image courtesy Ink Dwell)

At four feet tall, with the heavy body of an eagle and the long legs of a crane, the secretary uses its height to scan grasslands and flush out its prey which includes mammals and other birds—in addition to Africa’s most poisonous snakes. There have even been reports of them killing young gazelles.

Crafty hunters, sometimes secretary birds let dinner come to them, standing at the edge of brush fires in wait for fleeing prey. When it does find a meal, the secretary gives chase in a zigzag manner, flapping its wings to dazzle and confuse its victim. It then stomps its quarry in a mosh-pit melee of feather and fur, blood and scale.

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