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Roberts No 146
by Pompie Burger
The fact that the Bateleur probably has the shortest tail of all the raptors doesn’t mean that its flying ability is hampered in any way. In fact, it is one of the most dexterous and able flyers in the raptor fraternity. Even for the novice birdwatcher, it is almost impossible not to identify this raptor in flight. It has an unmistakable short tail, pitch-black body and almost pure white underwing, with the thin, black trailing edge and the male’s rim a little wider than that of the female.
When perched, it is impossible to distinguish between the male and female Bateleur. Its Afrikaans name, berghaan – literally translated as mountain cock – is rather appropriate, firstly because of its almost bare red facial markings and red legs, and its habit of walking on the ground rather cockily, looking for titbits to feed on. The mountain (berg) part is, however, a misnomer, because these birds very seldom, if ever, occur in mountainous terrain, preferring woodland areas. Because of habitat differences, the distribution of Bateleurs and Verreaux’s Eagles seldom overlaps. In the north-eastern parts of Namibia Bateleurs are of the more common raptors, although, like so many of our raptors, they are on the decline and regarded as endangered.
They have a cowl of loose feathers on the head and around the face, which blows in the wind to make the head look bigger. The function of the cowl is not known; it is probably just for the show, considering the generic name of these birds, Therathopius, which means ‘pretty face’. Bateleurs’ nests are typical raptor’s nests with a stick platform in the canopies of large trees. They feed mainly on birds and small mammals, and are often seen at a kill, scavenging carrion. A study done on Bateleurs in the Kruger National Park in South Africa showed that they seldom if ever take to flight on overcast and rainy days. They love to sit with their wings spread open to sunbathe.
The name Bateleur was given by the famous French explorer, naturalist and author, Francois Levaillant. It means tightrope walker, and refers to the rocking flight action typical of these raptors.
This article appeared in the June/July ‘10 edition of Travel News Namibia.
About the author:
Based in Windhoek, Pompie Burger is an orthopaedic surgeon whose part-time passion is photography, in particular wildlife, and specifically birds. This regularly takes him to the most remote corners of the country, resulting in riveting images and articles.
Pompie is the author and photographer of the coffee table book Birds of Namibia, which was published in 2008. The book contains articles and photographs which attest to the insight and knowledge of an accomplished observer.
Read more of his articles in our Birding Section.