Bateleur is French for “street performer” and refers to this eagle’s acrobatic flight abilities. As these birds glide, they rock their wings from side to side, and, as part of their courting display, turn summersaults in the air, clapping their wings together loudly and sometimes even screaming while diving. Generally silent flyers, though, they spend eight to nine hours per day in the air, covering up to 300 miles. The bateleur’s long wings are well adapted to soaring and a short tail minimizes air resistance. In fact, the bateleur eagle’s tail is so short the feet extend past when in flight. Monogamous and slow to reproduce, mated pairs produce only one egg at a time, and offspring do not mature until they reach seven to eight years of age.
Bateleur eagles enjoy sunbathing. After taking a quick dip in a pool of water, they stand upright with wings out to the sides and turn toward the sun to dry. Like most birds, these eagles have uropygial glands that produce oil that is used to keep their feathers in good condition. They have also been observed lying on the ground with wings outspread to warm the oil in their feathers after which they use their beaks to spread the oil onto their feathers. This improves aerodynamics. Another grooming behavior that bateleurs exhibit is known as anting. The birds allow ants to crawl over their feathers and collect bits of food, dead skin, and old feathers. When covered in ants, the eagles ruffle their feathers, causing the ants to produce formic acid in self-defense. Scientists believe the formic acid kills ticks, fleas, and other parasites. The bateleur eagle’s skin color changes to reflect their moods. A pale red or orange means they are relaxed, but feet change to a bright red when agitated.
Native to Africa, bateleur eagles range over most of the continent south of the Sahara Desert where there is no thick forest. They prefer open woodlands and savannas.
These birds are carnivores and scavengers. They eat primarily small mammals, birds, and carrion. Favored food items include rodents, mongoose, genets, pigeons, and doves, though they will eat reptiles, insects, and fish.
Adult bateleur eagles typically measure 22 to 28 inches in length, with a wingspan of about six feet. Average weight is four to six-and-a-half pounds. Like most raptors, females are larger than males. In the wild, this bird’s lifespan is up to 27 years, but in human care they may live up to 40 years.