Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus)

Bateleur, side view
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Bateleur fact file

Bateleur description

GenusTerathopius (1)

The bateleur’s (Terathopius ecaudatus) common name comes from the French word for tightrope walker, a reference to side-to-side rocking of its wing tips that occurs during gliding (4). One of the most colourful birds of prey, the bateleur can be readily identified by the bare patch of vivid red skin in front of the eyes and around the base of the bill, and by the stunted, orange tail (2) (4). The body and head are predominantly black, contrasted with prominent grey shoulders, a chestnut mantle and bright red feet (2) (5). In contrast to the very short tail, this species’ wings are exceptionally long, and coloured white on the underside with a black margin along the rear edge. The immature bateleur differs significantly from the adult, having uniform brown plumage and lacking the bare facial patch. It takes about eight years for the immature bateleur to develop the full adult colouration, with the feet and face first becoming pale yellow, before finally reddening. Although usually silent, when agitated or during courtship, the bateleur will throw its head back and make a raucous schaaaa-aw call (5).

Aigle bateleur.
Length: 60 cm (2)

Bateleur biology

Incredibly, the bateleur may spend as much as 80 percent of the day in flight, covering up to 500 kilometres, as it searches for food. Flying relatively low, this species scans the ground for signs of food and, when sighted, it descends in a tight spiral to investigate. It is particularly adept at locating carrion, often patrolling roadsides for roadkill, but it is an opportunistic feeder and quite capable of swooping down on live prey or catching birds in flight. The bateleur’s broad diet consists of mammals, from shrews to small antelopes, and birds, from starlings to large hornbills, as well as reptiles, insects and dead fish (5). When not in flight, the bateleur can be seen perching on branches or standing on the ground with its wings outstretched, absorbing the heat from the sun (6).

The bateleur’s courtship is spectacular, and involves the male diving down upon the female while in flight, and making incredibly loud wing claps, audible over a great distance (5). This courtship behaviour helps to establish strong lifelong, bonds between the breeding pairs (6). The bateleur’s breeding season varies according to location, occurring from September to May in West Africa, December to August in southern Africa and throughout the year in East Africa (5). The pairs establish a territory, which they actively defend from other bateleurs (6), and construct a robust nest from twigs lined with leaves in the fork of a tree, often near flowing water (5). A single egg is laid and incubated by the female for 52 to 59 days while the male guards the nest and brings food (5). Once hatched, the young take between 93 and 194 days to fledge, after which time they are permitted to stay in the pair’s territory for a few months before being driven out (5) (6).


Bateleur range

The bateleur has an extensive range, encompassing most of Africa, from Mauritania in the west, across to Sudan in the east, and stretching north to Egypt and south to South Africa. This species can also be found in the Middle East, with breeding populations located in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and vagrant individuals also found in Iraq and Israel (1).


Bateleur habitat

The bateleur mainly occupies open areas such as grassland and savanna, avoiding areas of dense forest and wetlands, but tolerating sparse woodland (5).


Bateleur status

The bateleur is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Near Threatened


Bateleur threats

With its extensive range, and a global population estimated to be between 10,000 and 100,000 individuals, at present, the bateleur is not particularly imperilled (1). Nevertheless, in Kenya, Côte d'Ivoire, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Zimbabwe, parts of Zambia, and possibly parts of Tanzania the bateleur has undergone significant declines in population and range. This has been variously attributed to the consumption of poisoned carcasses used to control jackal populations (7), trapping for international trade, nest disturbance due to the expansion of human settlements, and the use of pesticides (1).


Bateleur conservation

There are no conservation measures in place for the bateleur at present (1). Nevertheless, the Peregrine Fund conservation organisation is working in many areas of Africa where birds of prey have shown declines, for example as a result of widespread pesticide usage in Kenya. Their efforts are ensuring that adequate research is conducted in order to develop effective conservation strategies for these birds (8).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

Learn more about The Peregrine Fund: 

 For more information on the bateleur and other bird species:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



The flesh of a dead animal.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
In birds, the wings, shoulder feathers and back, when coloured differently from the rest of the body.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2011)
  2. Burnie, D. (2001) Animal. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  3. CITES (September, 2008)
  4. Briggs, P. (2008) East African Wildlife: A Visitor's Guide. Bradt Travel Guides, Chalfont St. Peter.
  5. Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Prey of the World. Houghton Mifflin, New York.
  6. Sacramento Zoo (December, 2008)
  7. The Bateleurs (December, 2008)
  8. The Peregrine Fund (December, 2008)

Image credit

Bateleur, side view  
Bateleur, side view

© Tony Heald /

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