Sagittarius serpentarius


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Sagittarius serpentarius
Species Authority: (Miller, 1779)
Common Name(s):
English Secretarybird, Secretary Bird
French Serpentaire

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A4acd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2013
Date Assessed: 2012-05-03
Assessor(s): BirdLife International
Reviewer(s): Butchart, S.
Facilitator/Compiler(s): Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Symes, A. & Taylor, J.
This species is classified as Vulnerable because recent evidence from across its range suggests that its population is experiencing a rapid decline, probably owing to habitat degradation, disturbance, hunting and capture for trade.

2012 Vulnerable

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Sagittarius serpentarius occurs in sub-Saharan Africa, from southern Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia and northern Guinea eastwards, north of the forest zone, through southern Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, southern areas of Niger, ChadSudan, South Sudan and northern parts of Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, to Ethiopia and north-western Somalia, and south through eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, to southern Africa, including Angola, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa. It is variably described as common to rare and localised, and is sedentary in some parts of its range and nomadic in others (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). Ad-hoc records, localised surveys and anecdotal observations indicate an apparent decline in many parts of the species's range, with some of the strongest evidence suggesting rapid declines in Tanzania since the late 1990s and in South Africa between 1987-1991 and 2007-2010 (Baker et al. 2011).

Angola (Angola); Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Djibouti; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Ghana; Kenya; Lesotho; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Swaziland; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Regionally extinct:
Liberia; Rwanda
Present - origin uncertain:
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Although the species occurs across a vast range, surveyed densities suggest that the total population size does not exceed a five-figure number.
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: The species inhabits grasslands, ranging from open plains to lightly wooded savanna, but is also found in agricultural areas and sub-desert (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). It ranges from sea-level to 3,000 m. A variety of prey is consumed, primarily insects and rodents, but also other mammals, lizards, snakes, eggs, young birds and amphibians. Breeding occurs throughout the year and the species typically nests in a flat-topped Acacia or other thorny tree, where it constructs a flattened stick structure (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001).

Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Although the species may benefit from deforestation, such positive effects may be outweighed by the negative impacts of spreading cultivation and urbanisation (Ferguson-Lees and Christie 2001). The excessive burning of grasslands may suppress populations of prey species, whilst the intensive grazing of livestock is also probably degrading otherwise suitable habitat (Baker et al. 2011). Disturbance by humans, probably most often herders, is likely to negatively affect breeding. The species is captured and traded in apparently small numbers; however, it is unknown how many die in captivity and transit. Direct hunting and nest-raiding for other uses and indiscriminate poisoning at waterholes are also potential threats. These human-induced threats may compound the effects of severe droughts in some areas (Baker et al. 2011).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. It occurs in a number of national parks and other protected areas across its large range.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Initiate a coordinated continent-wide monitoring programme to obtain an up-to-date population estimate and track the species's trends. In areas where the species is declining, raise awareness of threats amongst local people, particularly livestock herders. Monitor and tackle the capture and trade of the species.

Citation: BirdLife International 2013. Sagittarius serpentarius. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <>. Downloaded on 01 September 2015.
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