The Bateleur Eagle
The Bateleur Eagle
The Bateleur Eagle a true bird of prey and is the most famous of the snake eagles.
The Bateleur Eagle is a true bird of prey and the most famous of the snake eagles. Its scientific name, Terathopius ecaudatus, when translated literally from both Latin and Greek, means "marvellous face, no tail". Bateleur in French for "tightrope-walker", this aptly describes its distinctive, erratic and unstable manner of flying; the rocking flight motion very much mimics the side-to-side movement of a tight rope walker maintaining his balance. The species also demonstrates some spectacular aerial displays, particularly during courtship.
The Bateleur Eagle is spectacularly beautiful, with glossy black feathers, a red face and legs, and a black beak. The upper wings are tawny, while the feathering under the wings is black and white. This black and white patterning makes it possible to identify whether a mature bateleur flying overhead is a male or a female, as the male of the species has a broad, black band under its wings, with the female having mainly white feathers with only a small strip of black. Unlike most creatures, female Bateleur eagles are larger than males. The plumage of a one-year-old bateleur is a uniform dark brown.
Around the third year, this plumage starts to turn into adult colors of black, white and grey. It can take an immature Bateleur up to 8 years to shed all their brown plumage and turn in to full adults. The bateleur has exceptionally long wings and a noticeably short tail, so that its feet extend beyond the tail in flight.
The bateleur eagle's brown eyes are surrounded by facial skin that is a strikingly bright red, and devoid of feathers. As if to give a sense of artistic balance, the legs are the same brilliant red as the face.
The bateleur eagle is both a hunter and a scavenger. It preys on birds and reptiles and can fly for as much as eight hours at a time searching for live food or carrion and even road kills.
Bateleur eagles pair for life and may use the same nest for many years. The nuptial aerial display is spectacular, with steep dives by the male at the female. She will roll on her back, presenting her claws and then roll on over to right herself as he hurtles past. There may be follow-the-leader dipping and rolling flight, and there may be 360 degree lateral 'barrel' rolls, which is often accompanied by a very loud slapping of the wings together. All of this may be accompanied by very loud crowing calls.
The female Bateleur lays a single egg and incubates the egg while father collects food and sticks for the nest. After an incubation period of 52-59 days, the baby Bateleur eagle hatches. The fledgling remains in the vicinity of the nest for several months after it hatches. An exceedingly small percentage of chicks make it to adulthood.
Birds may cover 300 miles in up to an eight-hour-long daily searches for food. Due to the extensive area covered each day, the number of eagles in the wild is easily over-estimated in its native sub-Saharan region of Africa, but their numbers in parts of their range are declining. In South Africa it is now seldom seen outside of the game reserves of the Kalahari and those in the northern part of the country. In the Greater Kruger Park area, we are still privileged to be able to view this endangered species in the wild, hunting, breeding and surviving in its pristine bushveld habitat.
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