Are Secretary Birds Dangerous to People?

Secretary birds are not dangerous to people. They only threaten snakes that they prey on.

Nov 23, 2023By Jill Horton
are secretary birds dangerous to people

Secretary birds are an endangered species found throughout the savannas of Sub-Saharan Africa. These raptors are proficient snake hunters capable of delivering a lethal kick to take down their prey. But are they dangerous to humans? The short answer is no.

Despite this animal’s surprising speed and accuracy when hunting prey, there are no documented cases of secretary birds injuring humans. What else do we know about these threatened creatures? Read on to find out!

Secretary Birds Do Not Attack People

secretary bird u close
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Humans are safe, but snakes have plenty to fear when it comes to secretary birds. These creatures can strike their prey in a fraction of a second, eliminating any chance of evasion. What’s more, they are made for protection against would-be predators.

Secretary birds have armor on their long legs to protect them against bites. The scales that line these legs prevent sharp fangs from penetrating the skin and delivering a poisonous blow.

Secretary birds also have unique hunting methods. They flush snakes and other pests out of the tall grass by tamping it down. A mated pair might work together to chase critters out into the open, where they eliminate them with deadly aim and precision.

African Farmers Have Relied on Secretary Birds

secretary bird stomping prey
Image Credit: antonytrivet from Pixaby

Farmers enjoy the benefits of having secretary birds living on their land. But why? Snakes are one of these birds’ favorite meals. So, having secretary birds on farmland eliminates snakes and other critters that would eat crops.

As another bonus, secretary birds devour pests like locusts and grasshoppers that would destroy crops. Field mice, another common vermin that plagues farms, are not a problem with secretary birds on the job!

Did you know that secretary birds even became pets for the homesteaders? The raptors are docile toward humans and don't mind sharing space. These free-range darlings are even easier to take care of than some alternative pets, like parrots. Bird cages are unnecessary, and they can provide food for themselves!

Their unique style of capturing meals, varied diet, and gentility towards people are incredibly beneficial to their non-avian companions.

Secretary Birds Have Humans to Fear

secretary bird nest eggs
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Secretary birds require a lot of legroom in their nests. You might be surprised to learn that they often build them to be close to eight feet across! However, more and more secretary birds are losing their homes to deforestation, urbanization, and even poaching. The land they need for hunting and housing also succumbs to intentional and unintentional fires.

With all these looming threats, secretary birds face extinction. Today, according to the San Diego Wildlife Alliance Library, there are anywhere from 6,700 to 67,000 secretary birds in the wild––and their numbers are declining!

Thankfully, as we’ll explain later, there are many conservation efforts that hope to save secretary birds from their number one predator: humans.

Conservation Efforts Aim to Save the Secretary Bird

secretary bird with lady
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Terror birds (an extinct type or raptor) and secretary birds might have more in common than you think. Both of these birds shared similar traits, habitats, and hunting grounds. Yet, the big difference is that terror birds went extinct hundreds of years ago, while there’s still time for conservation efforts to save the secretary bird.

Sanctuaries, like the Maasai Mara, are working together with the general public to keep secretary birds’ numbers from declining. Also, locals are spreading the word about the dangers the raptors face. Such educational efforts and fundraising have shown favorable results so far.

By 2016, there were thought to be, at most, around 65,000 of the species remaining. Those in captivity receive expert care, increasing their lifespan by nearly a decade! Additionally, sales of secretary birds have been halted in a handful of countries. With reduced trade, the avians' numbers are slowly strengthening. However, more significant human intervention is vital to their long-term survival.

Frequently Asked Questions About Secretary Birds

secretary bird attacks snake
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

These creatures are among the most unique birds on Earth. So, here are some interesting facts about secretary birds:

Secretary Birds Aren’t the Only Endangered Species

Secretary birds and other threatened birds need our help if they want to evade extinction. Other examples of endangered birds include:

  • African gray parrots
  • Starlings
  • Snowy owls
  • Peafowls
  • Hummingbirds
  • House sparrows
  • Some species of gulls

Secretary Birds Mate for Life

Contrary to what may be popular belief, secretary birds are not a solitary bird species. They actually mate for life, raising chicks with the same partner until the very end. Both parents take turns sitting on the eggs and nurturing their babies once they hatch.

Secretary Birds Deal a Powerful Kick

Imagine how heavy a 50-inch LED television is. When a secretary bird stomps on a snake, it exerts about the same amount of force as a TV of that size falling on it. That’s a pretty impressive kick! That’s not all. The crushing blow is dealt in less time than it takes to blink! Yet, this African species doesn’t use its karate skills on humans.

Secretary Birds Molt About Once a Year

drawing of secretary bird

Per Seaworld, like other raptor birds, secretary birds molt about once a year. Here, they shed their old feathers to make room for fresher plumage. When they molt usually depends on the season.

Secretary Birds Need Our Help––Not Fear

secretary bird in a zoo
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

In the grand scheme of things, secretary birds have more to fear from humans than the other way around. Not only are there few (if any) reports on secretary bird-on-human attacks, but human encroachment is what’s putting these birds at risk of extinction.

Want to do your part to keep the secretary bird around and kicking? Arm yourself with knowledge. Also, consider doing your research when visiting zoos, ensuring you only visit ethical zoos with reputable programs.

Jill Horton
By Jill Horton

Jill is a rescue animal advocate and volunteer at Free to Live Animal Sanctuary. Her social media posts contain adoptable dogs and cats from there. Dogs Lucius and Colossus, cats Moses and Maximus, and four parakeets keep her on her toes at home. If you need help finding Jill, check her writing cave. She is likely typing away on her newest article or animal-themed children's book.