Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Moody Eagle

When people ask, "What is your favorite bird at the World Bird Sanctuary," my answer has always been the Bateleur Eagle. I've had the immense pleasure to work with both Tsavo and Shadow, WBS’s Bateleurs, and I can't help but smile each time I get to handle one or the other.

Bateleur sunning at Veszprém Zoo, Hungary РNotice the beautiful wing pattern and short tail (photo: Wikipedia)

A little background on the species.
Their scientific name, terathopius ecaudatus, says a lot about them.  The name originates from the Latin words teratos ("marvel"), opos ("appearance"), and ecaudatus ("to lack a tail").

Bateleur is the French word for "street performer". The bateleur eagle got this name for its distinctive flying style, because they rock side to side (as if to regain balance like a tight-rope walker) while gliding at low-altitudes in search of prey. They also do amazing aerial acrobatics for courtship and mating displays, which is only possible because of their short tail (3-4 inches long) and long, narrow wings (5.5-6 feet). They only gain their distinct adult plumage after 6-8 years.  The juvenile eagles begin life with longer wing and tail feathers (makes it easier to learn to fly), but after each molt the feathers grow back in just a little shorter than before.

Tsavo – One of the World Bird Sanctuary’s stunningly beautiful Bateleur Eagles. (photo: Gay Schroer)

Now for why we've nicknamed them the moody eagles of the sanctuary.  The first thing you will see (and hear) is their territorial display when you get "too close" to their perch(s).  All the following antics would be performed in the wild if a rival Bateleur came into their territory.  They start off with a soft "kau kau kau", and when that doesn't scare you away they raise their half spread wings and scream a loud "koaagh koaagh". Most of the time this is just how they greet you when you enter their territory, but their face will tell you if it is okay for you to handle them or not.  Their face is typically a pale red to orange when calm and relaxed, but can turn bright red when really excited. If their face turns yellow, get away as soon as possible, because that is when they're really angry about something and need space to calm down.

Shadow - One of this bird’s most striking features is its beautiful facial coloration (photo: Gay Schroer)

Bateleur eagles are indigenous to Africa (sub-Saharan open woodlands and grasslands) in which they are on the near-threatened list due to loss of habitat, poisoning, and illegal captures. There are no ongoing conservation efforts known because they are a common sight in conservation areas, even though they are scarce elsewhere. I believe we need to start keeping a closer eye on this amazing species before they become just a memory for those lucky enough to have seen/worked with one.

Be sure to look for this stunning eagle when you visit one of our zoo shows or come to one of our special events. This summer Tsavo will be entertaining the crowds at the Milwaukee County Zoo, and Tsavo will be wowing the crowds at Grant’s Farm in St. Louis.  There is no mistaking this unusual looking raptor.  As with all of our resident animals, Shadow and Tsavo are available for adoption through our Adopt A Bird program.

Submitted by William Oberbeck III, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist/Trainer

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