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REGAL EAGLE

Meet the majestic bateleur, BirdLife SA’s 2024 Bird of the Year

Meet the majestic bateleur, BirdLife SA’s 2024 Bird of the Year
The bateleur, known for its regal appearance and remarkable aerial behavior, is classified as regionally endangered with a population reduction of over 50% in the past 40 years. (Photo: Warwick Tarboton)

The bateleur, a majestic bird with a striking resemblance to the emblem of Zimbabwe, has been chosen as BirdLife South Africa's Bird of the Year for 2024, sparking debate about the connection.

The first thing I wondered when I saw a bateleur and its imperious visage — near Mjejane in the Kruger Park — was where I’d seen this face before.

It came to me: Zimbabwe. It looked just like the one sitting on the top of that country’s coat of arms.

BirdLife South Africa has just chosen the bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) as its Bird of the Year for 2024 and it is interesting to learn that there’s still some debate about whether there is a connection to the Zimbabwean emblem.

The bateleur is famous not only for its striking regal appearance but also for its remarkable aerial behaviour. The sad news is that,  despite the bold, majestic, strong image, these birds are classified as regionally endangered, with an estimated population reduction of more than 50% over the past three generations (40 years). All that’s left is a regional population of fewer than 1,000 mature individuals.

The bateleur

The bateleur is native to sub-Saharan Africa. (Photo: Albert Froneman)

Home for this eye-catching bird of prey, with its distinctive plumage — a combination of black, white and vibrant red-orange on the face and legs — is the bushveld of the Kruger National Park and the arid Kalahari Desert.

The decrease in numbers is suspected to be because of habitat transformation, which has led to a shortage of available prey.

The bateleur’s tendency to scavenge puts the species at particular risk from indiscriminate poisoning, especially by small-stock farmers. Illegal harvesting of the species for the muthi trade is another recent trend, one that BirdLife South Africa believes needs to be further investigated.

The bateleur

The bateleur. (Photo: Chris van Rooyen)

The name bateleur was coined by famed French explorer, writer, ornithologist, and Africa’s foremost bird species specialist in the 18th century François Levaillant, and is said to be French for a “tumbler” or “tightrope walker”, which aptly describes the bird’s graceful aerial acrobatics.

BirdLife Africa will be following up their choice of the bateleur with some interesting awareness programmes. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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  • Jon Quirk says:

    Long been my favourite bird, and delighted it has now received this accolade. Living in Bateleur Road. in Limpopo in a wildlife reserve and seeing this acrobatic bird soaring on high, is one of life’s treats.

  • Schalk Burger says:

    Good to see DM pick up on this story – It is a great choice of bird and a fabulous animal, which deserves protection for sure. Would love to see more stories on the projects Birdlife Africa is undertaking. Good work!

  • simchik2gp says:

    The only connection there is that this bird is very common in Zimbabwe especially in the southern parts and yes it’s a sacred bird here and highly endangered. It’s Shona name is (Chapungu). Nonetheless this bird is not the same as the one on the Zimbabwean flag and coat of arms, although they have some stark resemblance the one on our flag is known in Shona as (Hungwe) the African fish eagle, also a protected species.

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