This stunning raptor is also sometimes referred to as the Short-tailed Eagle. Bateleur is French for tumbler, juggler or tightrope walker, and refers to the bird’s characteristic habit of rocking its wings from side to side when gliding in flight.
It is a medium-sized eagle (55 to 70 cm/22 to 28 in long and weighing about 2.3kg) with long wings and a very short tail. This, together with its bright white underwings, makes it unmistakable in flight. It has black plumage, a chestnut mantle and tail, grey shoulder patches and red facial skin, bill and legs.
Bateleurs often sun themselves. 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. This makes for great photographs!
Bateleurs eat various small animals, either alive or as carrion, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, crabs and large insects. They hunt from a characteristic low searching flight, gliding back and forth and then descend on their prey in a tight spiral or “parachute drop”. They spend up to 80% of daylight hours in the air, covering as much as 500 km daily! They have even been documented as following hunters, looking for opportunities to feed on wounded or dead prey.
Bateleurs occur widely in sub-Saharan Africa, preferring open woodland and tree savannah and mostly avoiding forests and deserts. They are attracted to waterholes throughout their range. It is easily seen in most of the continent’s national parks and reserves.
This magnificent bird is regarded as Near-Threatened on the IUCN Red List, mainly due to habitat transformation leading to a decrease in prey availability for the species outside of protected areas in Africa. Due to the fact that a Bateleur is primary a scavenger a major threat facing this species is indiscriminate poisoning by farmers.
There is some controversy as to whether the Bateleur is actually the national bird of Zimbabwe (the “Zimbabwe bird”), as the bird that appears on the country’s emblem and flag could either be a Bateleur or an equally iconic African avian star, the African Fish Eagle; no one really knows!
Join one of our Zimbabwe Safaris and Tours to experience this wonderful safari destination with us.