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Sagittarius serpentarius (Secretarybird)

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Falconiformes > Family: Sagittariidae

Sagittarius serpentarius (Secretarybird)

Secretarybird, Etosha National Park, Namibia. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

Secretarybird. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the lowland forest of west Africa and the DRC. In southern Africa it is locally fairly common across much of the region, largely excluding Mozambique. It generally prefers open grassland with scattered trees, open Acacia and bushwillow (Combretum) savanna, shrubland, range lands, airstrips and other habitats with short grass.

Distribution of Secretarybird in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

It has been recorded as prey of Bubo lacteus (Verreaux's eagle-owl).

Movements and migrations

Resident and nomadic, especially in the arid west.


It mainly eats grasshoppers and small vertebrates, typically hunting by stamping its long legs on the ground to disturb prey, then catching them with its bill. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:


  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, performing a variety of displays for defending its territory and courtship.
  • The nest is built by both sexes, consisting of a large flat platform about 1.0-1.5 metres wide, made of sticks and lined with grass. It is typically placed on top of a thorny tree, such as a Black thorn (Acacia mellifera), Umbrella thorn (Acacia tortilis), Sweet thorn (Acacia karroo), Common hook thorn (Acacia caffra) or the alien Black wattle (Acacia mearnsii) and pine (Pinus). The breeding pair roost in the structure for several months before breeding, and may even use the nest for roosting only.
  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from April-May in Namibia but from September-December elsewhere.
  • It lays 1-3 eggs, which are mainly incubated by the female for about 40-46 days, while the male feeds her at the nest.
  • The chicks are fed by both adults by regurgitation, and by the time the reach 38 days old they can find food for themselves, yet they remain dependent on their parents for food and water for another 25 days or so. The young take their first flight at about 64-105 days old, but are still at least partially dependent on their parents for a further 62-105 days, sometimes returning to the nest to practice flying and kicking.


Not threatened, although local population decreases have been reported in South Africa.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.