Photo of the Month: Bateleur Eagle

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

Bateleur eagle; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Bateleur eagle; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: The bateleur eagle (Terathopius ecaudatus) is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) primarily due to habitat loss and disturbance, hunting and trapping, and pesticide poisoning. The global population stands at fewer than 100,000 birds.

Habitat: This species is fairly widespread in Africa; it can be found south of the Sahara Desert all the way into South Africa, west to Cameroon, and east into southwest Arabia. This eagle prefers open habitat like woodland savannas and grasslands where it is often seen soaring in search of prey or nesting in tall trees.

Diet: The bateleur eagle is a hunter and scavenger that spends 4-5 hours each day in the air looking for food. Its diet includes other birds, small and medium-sized mammals, snakes, lizards, and carrion.

“Bateleur” is a French word meaning “tumbler” or “street performer,” referring to the eagle’s spectacular aerial acrobatics during courtship displays as well as its habit of rocking from side to side while gliding (as if trying to maintain its balance, like an acrobat). It has the shortest tail and narrowest wing, relative to its body size, of any eagle, which helps the bird soar at low altitudes while hunting.

The bright skin on this raptor’s face and legs gives hints as to how the bird is feeling, much like a mood ring. When this eagle is relaxed, its skin is generally an orange-red color. When it gets excited, the bare skin can quickly turn bright red.

The bateleur eagle is part of the national emblem of Zimbabwe, and at the L.A. Zoo, it can be seen participating in training demonstrations at the daily World of Birds Show (except Tuesdays).