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Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) Fact Sheet: Summary

Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) Fact Sheet

Secretary bird head

Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.


Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Describer (Date):
     Sagittarius serpentarius J. F. Miller (1779); Falco serpentarius; Herman (1783)     

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Accipitriformes

Family: Sagittariidae (Secretarybird)

Genus: Sagittarius

Species: Sagittarius serpentarius

Body Weight: 2300 - 4270 grams (5 - 9.4 lbs)

Wingspan: 212 cm, 2.12 m (83.5 in, 7 ft)

Plumage: Black feathers covering abdomen and thighs. Grey feathers on wings, back and head. Long black crest feathers and elongated tail feathers.

Beak: Hooked aquiline bill

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Range: Widespread south of the Sahara and across South Africa. High altitudes in Drakensberg to the semi-desert of Kalahari and not found in forests or true desert (coastal Namib).

Habitat: Prefers short open grassland with scattered Acacia thorn trees for roosting and nesting. Avoids areas where grass is too dense or tall.

IUCN Status
Vulnerable (2016 assessment)

CITES Status
Appendix II

Population in Wild: Declining. IUCN fact sheet states 6,700-67,000 mature individuals.

Migration: Non-migratory

Activity Cycle: Diurnal. Mated pairs hunt together during the day, rising late and returning to roost roost an hour or two before dark.

Social Groups: Mated pairs occupy territory together. Chicks leave parents when mature.

Diet: Diet consists of anything found on the ground: grasshoppers, lizards, rats, squirrels, shrews, small rodents and birds, eggs, chameleons, snakes and small tortoises.

Predators: Humans. Other birds of prey may feed on Secretarybird eggs and chicks.

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity: Unknown, but expected to be 3 - 4 years.

Courtship: Courtship may last up to six months before egg-laying. Monogamous pairing.

Clutch Size: 2 - 3 eggs.

Nest: Made of sticks and weed stems, thickly lined with dry grass.

Hatchlings: Cared for by both parents, eating liquid and whole prey from day of hatching.

Fledging: Chicks usually fully developed, with duller plumage and yellow (rather than red or orange) facial skin.

Typical Life Expectancy: not reported

Feature Facts:

  • The only species in this genus.
  • Widespread south of the Sahara and across South Africa
  • Only bird of prey to hunt exclusively on the ground.
  • Crown of crest feathers give the bird an unmistakable appearance. Stands about 4 ft. tall
  • Kills prey by stamping to death, then swallowing whole. 
  • Karani is a mature female who hatched in 2008 at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, and Aren, a young male, hatched in 2012.

About This Fact Sheet

© 2008-2019 San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. CITES status updated Aug 2019. New suspensions in place for Somalia (2019) and Liberia (2018)

How to cite: Secretary Bird (Sagittarius serpentarius) Fact Sheet. c2008-2019. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. secretarybird
(Note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2015 Jan 15)

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to


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