Fodor’s Investigates: What Is This Glamorous Bird and Where Can I See It?

PHOTO: Johan Swanepoel / Shutterstock

Where is it? Where?

Meet the bird more beautiful than any human.

Recently the internet has been particularly interested in a regal and fanciful bird called the secretary bird, which is a tall bird native to southern parts of Africa. Why the obsession, you ask? Well, it is because of this: They are very fancy looking.

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The secretary bird and it has long legs, long eyelashes, and, plot twist, they use their feet as stomping weapons and if you’re a snake, will stomp the living daylight of you, and then eat you.

Secretary birds, also known as Sagittarius serpentarius (and, dear lord, this makes sense–they’re so Sagittarian),  roam the sub-Saharan African grasslands on their long legs (feathered all the way down to their ankles), stomping on grass tussocks in search of small animals to scare up and stomp to death–all the while looking like both a villain and a queen.

Also, sometimes it looks like this, where its legs look sort of like human legs.

Where Might I Be Able to See This Bird, Please?

Finding a secretary bird in the wild isn’t the easiest task, but it is possible. To see one in their natural habitat, your best bet is to make your way to South Africa, where they can be found walking about in many reserves and parks. Here are a few of your options.

Kruger National Park: Kruger National Park in South Africa is an excellent spot for birding, and specifically for spotting the lovely secretary bird, and it offers many safari tour options. Kruger is a great place for birding, and specifically for spotting the lovely secretary bird and its long eyelashes. Once you’re there, you will best find them in the central grasslands around Satara, as well as the eastern grasslands around Lower Sabie. Flights to Kruger can be booked from Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg (where most people fly in from). 

Rietvlei Nature Reserve: The secretary bird is a regular at Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Gauteng, South Africa. There are plenty of places to stay in the village of Irene, in Gauteng, and you’ll find plenty of safari or tour options. It’s very easy to get to Gauteng, with almost all international flights arriving at Johannesburg’s or Tambo International Airport. 

Bontebok National Park: Birdwatching is big at Bontebok National Park, and you are very likely to see a secretary bird strutting about when you visit. The small park is a good stopping point in between Cape Town and the Garden Route and has plenty of natural viewing spots and vast open landscapes.

Ntendeka Wilderness Area: Ntendeka may be one of the smallest of the wilderness areas for viewing secretary birds and their long legs, but it is (arguably) one of the loveliest. It’s very accessible with many walking paths for visitors. The birdlife in the area is significantly good, with over 200 different species of birds found in the relatively small perimeters. 

A Variety of These, Because You Do Not Want To Choose: If you do not want to choose just one park to search for secretary birds at, Eagle-Eye Tours offer an itinerary of several locations in its South Africa Subtropics tour. You’ll begin in Durban, and end in Johannesburg, and see all sorts of birds (around 400 different species) including the elusive bird, and my personal best friend, the secretary bird. And as everyone knows, the only thing better than one type of fancy bird is many types of fancy birds.

Please Remember to Be Respectful of This Royal Bird

As much as this bird looks like it is approaching you to give you a grand hug, you should know that it is definitely not doing that. Remember to keep your distance and respect this large fellow–it would be disrespectful to disturb this fancy bird, even if you are not a snake and therefore not at risk of being stomped.