This week's bird

The beautiful colouring of the Bateleur
My bird this week comes yet again from South Africa. When one goes to the Kruger Park--or any game park in Africa--when it comes to birds, it is always the birds of prey that feature prominently. And in the Kruger Park, few are as distinct as the Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus). Despite it's commonness the Bateleur cannot be overlooked since it's appearance is anything but common. In fact I always consider something that is relatively common to be rather special. Special in that it is able to adapt to a wide range of habitats and exploit resources to maximize the survival of young, the key to evolutionary success. At rest and in flight the Bateleur is unmistakable. The vivid red-orange face and legs, and light chestnut wings are stunning, making this bird one of the most beautiful of the southern African eagles. In flight the Bateleur appears almost tailless, probably the most powerful diagnostic for any bird enthusiast.

As mentioned previously, the Bateleur is found in a wide range of habitats, from woodland to open savanna, and even the Kalahari desert. This wide ranging habitat is reflected by the birds diverse diet including birds, reptiles and fish, but predominately small mammals. They are also known to scavenge on carrion and the eggs of ground nesting birds and, steal from larger eagles and vultures.

Bateleur with a snake
My wife and I were fortunate enough to witness a Bateleur hunt, catch and eat a snake (see left for the photo). It was a hot day and we had been driving for an hour or so, not far from Letaba rest camp in the Kruger Park. There had been very little action and we had probably only seen a handful of the common (once again, common not necessarily bad) antelope, Impala. Suddenly I noticed a raptor flying low and slow just above the car; It was a Bateleur. Then, almost like a parachutist, wings held above it's head, legs extended downward, it swooped down close to the road. As we pulled up we noticed that it had something in it's mouth. It was a snake. I tried getting some photos but unfortunately the image is slightly out of focus because I was little bit more excited than the average person. We watched for a few seconds as the birds gulped the snake down trying to get as many pictures before it flew off with slow, powerful wing beats.


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