Having recently spent a few days in Kruger National Park, I am inspired to write about the Bateleur, perhaps the most regal and stunning looking of all
Having recently spent a few days in Kruger National Park, I am inspired to write about the Bateleur, perhaps the most regal and stunning looking of all raptors with his distinctive colouring and fierce looking bare red face and strong eagle beak. Males and females are much alike except that the female has distinctive pale flight feathers. Bateleurs are not seen in the Free State and built up areas and are essentially birds of the bushveld especially in Game Reserves. Fortunate indeed is the person able to see these magnificent birds perched at close quarters. Juveniles are brown in colour and it takes about 7 years before the adult reaches full distinctive plumage. In the meantime, it displays a confusing range of colouring.
They are easily identified in flight as they soar effortlessly in the skies with their long tapering wings with upswept tips and very short tails [it almost looks as if they have no tail at all!] The female has large pale patches under its wings in flight while the male has smaller pale patches and more conspicuous black wing tips. Bateleurs tend to rock from side to side in flight. This habit has given the bird its name: Bateleur, the French word for a tightrope walker manipulating arms up and down to maintain balance.
Bateleurs are closely related to snake eagles and they do eat snakes but live mainly on birds such as hornbills, rollers, starlings and Francolin as well as insects and small mammals including eggs of ground nesting birds. They also eat carrion and are usually the first raptor to find and settle on dead animals even before the vultures
The Zulu name for a Bateleur is ing-Ung ulu and Credo Mutwa, the celebrated Sangoma tells us this word can describe how the bird beats its wings in the air but can also mean the beginning and the end. He goes on to tell us that when creation began and the tree of life produced living things, the first bird to fall off the ‘tree of life’ was ing-Ung ulu (bateleur) who beat his wings to signal the birth of creation.
This magnificent bird enjoyed the direct protection of the King and could not be killed. When ing-Ung ulu nested in an area, the King and some of his people would visit the bird to conduct a sacred ceremony. It is said that a few hours before the death of King Shaka in 1828 an Ingqungqulu was seen beating his wings and emitting his rare call lamenting the death of a King. If a person found a feather, he was bound to wrap it and deliver it at the gates of the King.