Sagittarius serpentarius

Click to view a larger image. Click to view a larger image. bird bird

Museum specimen featured in the Wild exhibition
Source: Museum Vitoria

Image: Nigel J. Dennis
Source: Corbis

Type: bird

Secretarybird Secretarybird
Image: Nigel J. Dennis
Source: Corbis

Conservation Status

Secure Vulnerable Endangered Extinct  ]

Secretarybirds have benefited from human activity, such as clearing for agriculture, that has expanded their habitat. They are also prized for their ability to control rats and snakes. Although there are large numbers of Secretarybirds they seem to be in decline, and urban growth may further reduce their populations in the future.



Secretarybirds are carnivores.

They eat snakes and other reptiles, mammals, and large insects.


Secretarybird relative size depiction as described below

Size relative to a cat and a woman.

3.4–4.3 kg
1.25–1.5 m
1.2–1.3 m
2.1 m

Amazing Secretarybirds

With their long legs and tail, grey and black plumage, black crest and bright red faces, Secretarybirds are striking residents of the African savannah. They differ in appearance and behaviour to other birds of prey, being ground-dwelling and very tall.

During the day they hunt alone or in small groups by stalking over open ground and stomping on prey, which they pick up with their curved beaks. They are attracted to areas that have recently burned where they hunt injured animals. Snakes are their main prey, and their long legs have tough scales to guard against snakebite.

Breeding pairs reunite each year to breed. They return to the same nest, which is a pile of sticks placed in a low tree fork and is added to every year. Females lay two or three eggs and both parents care for the chicks. Young Secretarybirds can fly at about eight weeks of age and are independent soon after.

Despite having large, broad wings, they rarely take flight except to flee danger or to roost at night in low trees. Instead, they use their wings as shields when attacking snakes. Secretarybirds defend their territories which may cover 50 square kilometres.

Did You Know?


  • are unusual, tall birds of prey with very long legs
  • are fierce snake-hunters, using their wings to protect themselves from being bitten
  • pair for life and breed in the same nest every year


Secretarybird distribution map

Secretarybirds are found in sub-Saharan Africa. They live in grasslands, savannahs and open or disturbed areas.


Other animals from the Afrotropic

Blue CraneMandrillAfrican Wild DogOkapi

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