The bateleur eagle is a medium-sized eagle in the family Accipitridae. Its closest relatives are the snake eagles. It is the only member of the genus Terathopius and may be the origin of the “Zimbabwe Bird”, national emblem of Zimbabwe.
Its pitch black feathers with white under the wings, bright red face and legs and black beak are characteristic markings. 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 short tail, so that its feet extend beyond the tail in flight. The bateleur’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 female’s upperwing-coverts are brown, while the secondary flight feathers are mainly grey.
Bateleur eagles spend 8-9 hours each day in the air looking for food. Their diet includes antelope, mice, birds, snakes, carrion, lizards and especially road kills.
A female will lay a single egg in a nest that sits in a large tree, which offers protection. Mother incubates the egg while father collects food and sticks for the nest. Sometimes, however, the father incubates. After an incubation period of 52-59 days, the baby Bateleur eagle hatches. 110 days later, the hatchling will leave the nest, but will continue to receive food from its parents for another 100 days. Only 2% of chicks make it to adulthood.
Bateleur eagles pair for life and stay in the same nest for several years. Unpaired adults can sometimes be seen near a nest site. This bird is not rejected by the mating pair and does not help with nesting. The bateleur is most commonly seen in rapid, direct flight which is its preferred method of hunting. 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. 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. This percussion can be heard by humans for some great distance. All of this may be accompanied by very loud crowing calls. Bateleurs often sun. They stand upright and hold their wings straight out to the sides and tipped vertically, a classic ‘phoenix’ pose, and they turn to follow the sun.
The bateleur ranges over most of Africa south of the Sahara Desert where there is no thick forest. It wants open land – grassland and acacia savannah. It is reduced or extinct in most of its southern African range.
Where they are found
The Bateleur eagle is found throughout Africa south of the Sahara. It prefers tree and bush savanna, and is occasionaly spotted on Sibuya Game Reserve.
A pair of immature Bateleur Eagles photographed on Sibuya