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Sagittarius serpentarius


This elegant, long-legged bird kills its prey by repeatedly stamping on it.

It has an unmistakable appearance, with an eagle-like body on top of long powerful legs. Unlike most raptors, it is a terrestrial hunter stalking the open savanna or grasslands for one of its many prey species. Despite being predominantly terrestrial, the Secretarybird can soar up to great heights of 3,000m. The Secretarybird consumes small prey whole, even highly venomous puff adders and cobras are killed by several rapid blows to the head.

The species has a huge range across the African continent from as far north as Mali to as far south as South Africa. There have been reports from many of the 36 countries within its range that local populations are in decline. The factors causing this decline are as yet unconfirmed, but habitat conversion and hunting may be threats to the species. This highly distinctive species is widespread across sub-Saharan Africa.

There has been much debate as to whether the Secretarybird should belong to its own separate family, with many people positioning it in the monospecific Sagittariidae. Either way, it diverged prior to the divergence of the other members of the Accipitridae and is positioned at the base of this group in the phylogenetic tree.

  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Sagittariidae
  • Population: 6,700-67,000
  • Trend: decreasing
  • Size: 110-130cm
  • Weight: 3.1-4.1kg

EDGE Score

EDGE Score: 4.95 (?)
ED Score: 34.41 (?)
GE / IUCN Red List (?)
Not Evaluated Data Deficient Least Concern Near Threatened Vulnerable Endangered Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild Extinct


Endemic to Africa, found in over 30 sub-Saharan countries from Mali to South Africa.

Habitat and Ecology

This species inhabits semi-arid savanna, scrub or grasslands with scattered small, flat-topped trees. It can also be found in open areas within forested habitat. Areas of human development such as fallow fields, airfields and pasture attract the species. They are terrestrial predators, often stalking in pairs, seeking out prey animals on the ground. It has a varied diet, feeding on small mammals, birds and eggs, snakes, lizards, small tortoises, amphibians, insects and crustaceans.

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Conservation Actions

For each key category of conservation action, we calculated a conservation attention score based on expert information. In this graph, a higher score means the action is being carried out more intensively over more of the species range. The colour shows how important each action is considered to be for the conservation of this species.

Engaging stakeholders
Addressing threats
Status of knowledge
Management plan
Capacity building
Behaviour change
Awareness raising
  Score: 100 means the activity occurs at high level across more than 75% of the species range
Very Low

Overall Conservation Attention

We combined all of the expert information on conservation actions to calculate an overall conservation attention score for this species. Please help us to reach our goal of establishing dedicated conservation attention at “High” levels for all EDGE species.

Very Low Low Medium High

More information

Recent studies have grouped all possible conservation activities for any species into nine key categories (Washington et. al 2015). For each action, we asked experts for each species to assess the extent to which that action is being carried out and how much of the species’ range that action occurs in. For each action we used these two pieces of information to calculate the conservation attention score per action. A score of 100 means that the action is being carried out to a high level across at least 75% of the species range. We then combined the scores for all actions into an overall conservation attention score for the species. The experts also judged how important each category was to the conservation of that particular species.

This wordcloud illustrates the threats facing this species. The size of each word indicates the extent of a species range that is affected by that threat (larger size means a greater area is affected). The colour of the word indicates how much that threat impacts the species (darker shades of red mean the threat is more severe).

Urban development Droughts Crops Livestock Hunting Work Fire

Threat wordcloud key:

Small area affected
Large area affected
Least severe
Most severe
Severity unknown
Source: The IUCN List of Threatened Species. Version 2017.1.
Available at:

Download the Survival Blueprint for this species below. Each survival blueprint is compiled by an EDGE Fellow working on the species with input from collaborators and stakeholders. The Survival Blueprint provides a status review (information on the distribution, protection status, habitat & ecology, threat and stakeholder analysis) and more information on the action programme listed here.  

Vision (30-50 years)

Protection of the habitat where the species occurs and enhance conservation efforts to ensure the species’ numbers are stable

Goal (5-10 years)

Continuous monitoring, a census and create awareness about species status to ensure conservation efforts are sustainable in the long-term.


To continue with monitoring efforts through transects and patrols within our protected area. We will run transects for times a year within a 500,00 acre area and ranger patrols will happen daily Critical
Creation of positive synergies and reduce conflicts between local communities and the Secretary bird through education awareness and creation of alternative livelihood sources Critical
Put radio transmitters and colour-ring tags to understand more about movement of the species. Though now we do not have funds for tagging, we will source for funding to undertake this High
Creation of awareness among stakeholders and more so come up with products which can be used as fun learning tools to encourage the youth to appreciate nature and conservation High
Efforts to have a countrywide census of Secretary birds to know more about absolute numbers, if not a rough estimate Medium

Sidney Shema

  • Project name: Understanding Secretarybird movements in relation to grass cover and prey availability.
  • Project site: Athi-Kaputiei Plains, Kenya
  • Active: 2020 - 2022
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Bernard Amakobe

  • Project name: Status of the Secretarybird within Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project Area, south-east Kenya
  • Project site: Kasigau Project area, Kenya
  • Active: 2016 - 2018
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