The Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

Although it can fly, the secretary bird prefers to move around on foot and can cover 30 km a day, earning it the title 'Africa's marching eagle'.

Secretary Bird

The Secretary Bird is a large bird of prey is named for the crest of long feathers at the back of its head that resemble quill pens that 19th century clerks stuck in their wigs.

It is the only member of its family, Sagittariidae, which is found nowhere else on earth

The Secretary bird is an unusual bird. Unlike the other birds of prey, the Secretary Bird has very long legs and tail feathers. Its plumage is light gray, except for the black wing tips, tail, and thighs. Its face is covered in red and yellow skin.

Although they are usually seen on the ground, Secretary Birds nest in trees (usually acacia). Their nest can reach 8 feet across, even though it only holds 2-3 eggs at time.


  • Mass: 2.3 to 4.6 kg
  • Length: 112 to 152 cm
  • Wingspan: 191 to 220 cm

Secretary birds are found throughout Africa south of the Sahara. In South Africa, you may spot them at the world-renowned Kruger National Park, the Bontebok National Park near Swellendam, and the Sterkfontein Dam Reserve near Harrismith in the Free State.

These long-legged raptors are known for their ability to expertly dispatch their prey with precise and powerful kicks, prey that notably includes venomous snakes. Such is the admiration for this remarkable species that it is proudly displayed on the South African coat of arms, as a symbol of protection.

The Secretarybird is an effective hunter, striding across the landscape in search of prey which when sighted are usually stunned or killed with a series of rapid and accurate kicks with a force up to five times the mass of the bird itself. Their diet consists mainly of arthropods including locusts, beetles and spiders (87%), rodents (3.9%), lizards (3.3%), birds (1.8%) and despite being well known for their ability to kill snakes, these only make up a small proportion of their regular diet (1%). The Secretary bird also stamps its feet on the ground to flush out prey. Although they hunt on the ground, the Secretary bird can fly very well, but rarely does so.

The basic social structure in Secretary birds is a life-long pair. However, they are not particularly gregarious. In fact, members of a pair are usually not together, but instead stay a small distance apart.

Secretary birds are almost completely silent birds, except for a rare croaking sound they utter when displaying.

Breeding can take place at anytime of the year but appears to be linked to rainfall. Nests are constructed as large, flat stick structures in the tops of flat thorn trees or dense bushes approximately 3-6 m above the ground. Broods can have up to three chicks and in a good year both parents will be able to fledge all three individuals.

Primarily incubated by the female, after an incubation period of about 45 days two or three eggs will hatch. Both the parents feed the young. At 60 days, the young start to flap their wings. They stay in the nest for two to three months and can fly after about 80 days.

Life Expectancy is 10 to 15 years in the wild. They live up to 19 years in captivity.

The young are preyed upon by crows, ravens, hornbills, large owls and kites. There are no known incidents of predation on the adults but Secretary birds face a numerous range of threats the biggest of which is undoubtedly habitat loss through the degradation of natural areas and conversion of areas into agricultural properties or human settlements. A number of fatalities have been recorded from collisions with power infrastructure and fence lines as well. Birds also face risks of secondary poisoning by consuming poisoned prey.

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