Bateleur Eagle Fact File
Bateleur eagles are a large species of snake eagle found throughout Africa. As their name suggests they feed on snakes along with a range of other animal prey. They will also scavenge for carrion.
Their name derives from a French word for tightrope walker and refers to the way they appear to be trying to balance themselves when in flight.
A monogamous pair will maintain a large, stick nest in the trees where they can raise a single chick each year.
Unfortunately their populations are declining as a result of poisoning, habitat degradation and trapping for international trade.
Learn more about these brilliant birds by reading on below.
The bateleur eagle is a remarkably colorful eagle. Across their body they have black feathers on the body and head with chestnut red feathers across the mantle. Running along the wing is a white stripe.
On the face there are no feathers and the red skin is visible. This will change color depending on their mood. When relaxed it is pale orange but changes to bright red when agitated.
Males have black secondary feathers while those on the female are white. These primaries are long and finger-like which gives them additional control when in flight.
Their legs are colored red with strong talons for catching food. They are covered by thick overlapping scales which helps protect the feet from bites. The eyes are colored brown.
These eagles have a remarkably short tail.
An adult bateleur eagle will measure 56-61cm(22-24in) long with an average weight of 2-3kg(4.5-6.5lbs). They have a wingspan of 1.7m (5.7ft) across.
Bateleur eagles are carnivores. They feed a range of live food and dead items in the form of carrion. Foods consumed include mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, crabs and eggs.
When termites fly from their nest during the breeding season large numbers of bateleur eagles will gather to feed on them.
These eagles are often the first to arrive at a carcass as they fly at low level. This means they get access to the tastiest parts of the kill such as the eyes.
Africa is the native home of the bateleur eagle. Here they can be found in Angola; Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d’Ivoire; Djibouti; Egypt; Eritrea; Eswatini; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Iraq; Israel; Kenya; Lesotho; Liberia; Malawi; Mali; Mauritania; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Tanzania; Tunisia; Togo; Uganda; Yemen; Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The bateleur eagle is found in open areas such as grassland, savanna and subdesert thornbush.
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Breeding season is variable across their range. In the West of Africa they breed from September to May, in East Africa they breed year round and in southern Africa they breed from December to August.
They will perform a courtship display during which they do somersaults in the air, clap their wings together and scream while in a dive. Once pairs form they are considered monogamous.
Their nest is placed in a large tree. The large nest is formed from sticks.
The females will deposit a single egg in to this nest which is incubated for 52-60 days. Males and females will work together to raise the young.
After 93 to 194 days the chick will fledge. After this they may continue to receive supplemental food for a further 100 days.
Juveniles have longer feathers than adults which helps with stability and control when they are learning to fly.
Only a single brood is raised each year. Sexual maturity is achieved at 7 years old.
While in flight they will tilt from side to side as if they are attempting to balance. They may remain in flight for hours covering vast distances across their territory.
These birds often sunbake. They will bathe for a short time in the water and then turn towards the sun to dry out. They have a gland which produces oil to help keep the feathers in good condition.
Bateleur eagles perform a behavior called anting. During this they allow ants to crawl over their feathers to eat food and dead skin. They then ruffle the feathers causing the ants to produce an acid which kills ticks, fleas and parasites.
They are active during the day and will roost at night.
In flight they can reach speeds of up to 80kmh (50mph).
Predators and Threats
Bateleur eagles may also be hunted by larger birds of prey.
The population is thought to be decreasing but still numbers in the tens of thousands.
Their decline is owing to habitat loss, trapping to supply international trade, disturbance by humans and poisoning or pollution. Poisoning marks the largest threat to the bateleur eagles.
Humans assist them as roadkill provides an additional food source with these eagles often seen at the road side eating.
The name bateleur eagle comes from the French for street performers. It is a reference to their side to side motion when in flight as if they are maintaining their balance.
They are also known as snake eagles due to their common behavior of feeding on snakes.
The ecaudatus portion of their scientific name comes from the Latin for tailless.
Bateleur eagles are the only member of the genus, Terathopius.
Sumeet Moghe, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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