Sunday, May 20, 2012

Not Just Another Dark Shadow

There are about 60 species of eagles in the world.  One of the eagles at the World Bird Sanctuary is an exceptional bird who has an incredible personality.  His name is Shadow and he is a Bateleur Eagle (Terathoplus ecaudatus). 
 Meet Shadow, one of our Bateleur Eagles
There are four types of eagles: snake/serpent eagles, booted/true eagles, sea/fish eagles, and harpy/buteonine eagles. Bateleur Eagles are in the snake-eagle family.  These eagles are one of the few animals that will eat venomous snakes.  Their tough skin helps to withstand bites and their behavior of puffing up their feathers keeps snakes from actually biting them.  Instead of biting their skin, they would only get a mouthful of feathers!  I think that is very impressive!
 Here, on another Bateleur Eagle,  you can see the coloration pattern for the female of the species--also, note the short tail
Bateleur is French for acrobat or tumbler.  These eagles are very acrobatic when flying during aerial courtship displays.  The shape of their body, and their short tail which acts as a rudder, allows them to do sideways barrel rolls in the sky.  They have a large wingspan ranging from 5 ½ to 6 feet and a very short tail, around 3 inches long!  Males have black primary and secondary feathers on their wings (primaries being furthest from the body and secondaries closer), whereas females have black on the top and grey underneath their secondary wing feathers.   The males weigh around 4-5 pounds; females surpass them at 5-6.2 pounds.  Besides size, this feather coloration is the only way to distinguish males from females. 
Here you can see an example of the facial color change ....excited to be picked up by handler
Aside from the long wings and short tail, Bateleurs also have a distinctive red face and feet.  Their skin will change from a bright red when they are excited to a pale orange or yellow when they are uncertain or frightened.
 ....uncertain about being placed in a new environment.  Photos taken within minutes of each other
Bateleur Eagles are native to central-western and southern areas of Africa.  The tan coloration of feathers on the back can vary in shade depending on which region the eagle is from.  Below you can see a picture of Shadow showing off his impressive colors and wingspan. 
 Shadow displaying his impressive wingspan
Bateleur eagles are a near threatened species. A BirdLife International study (2009) estimated the total global population of mature birds at 10,000 to 100,000 individuals. The total regional population for southern Africa, including Swaziland, is now probably less than 700 pairs (Barnes 2000). From 1980 to 2000, there was an estimated 75% decline in total numbers in southern Africa (Watson and Maritz 2000).   For more information about population densities click here

These beautiful birds mate for life-just like the Bald Eagle native to North America.  Another interesting fact is that they will sometimes travel up to 200 miles a day looking for food.  Their diet consists of reptiles, eggs, crabs, insects, small mammals, birds, carrion (dead animals), small antelope, and sometimes fish.  These birds are definitely carnivores!

Shadow came to us through U.S. Customs.  He was once wild in Africa, but captured and taken out of his home illegally.  He is at least 25 years old this year.  The lifespan of these birds range from 20 to 30 years in the wild.  The oldest Bateleur Eagle in captivity lived to the ripe old age of 55.  On average, the lifespan in captivity is 40-50 years old.

In 2010, Shadow was at Grant’s Farm with me helping educate the public.  Grant’s Farm is located in Grantwood Village near St. Louis.  This year he is back again with Whitney Cowan, who is a new addition to our staff this summer.

Shadow is available for adoption in our Adopt a Bird program.  To adopt Shadow click here (Link) or for more information call 636-861-3225.  All adoption donations are tax deductible.  I invite you to visit Grant’s Farm this summer to see Shadow up close and personal!  He is an amazing bird.

Submitted by Lisbeth Hodges, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist


Anonymous said...

You will be pleased to know I spotted one in the Drakensburg Mountains, South Africa at our lodge.
Your article was very helpful in identifying the bird I had captured on my camera. She looks female from your description. Can you confirm if I am correct?

Photog said...

Unfortunately, the photo is too distant for a positive identification, but you are certainly in the right area to have spotted one of these magnificent birds.