/ 7 November 2023

Meet the 2024 Bird of the Year

Bateleur Eagle Eats Its Prey, Masai Mara National Park
Bateleur, with its distinctive plumage and graceful flight pattern, is under threat (Photo by: Leonardo Mangia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

BirdLife South Africa has announced the majestic bateleur, a regionally endangered eagle, as its Bird of the Year 2024.

Known as the berghaan in Afrikaans, ingqungqulu in Zulu and Ingqanga in Xhosa, the bateleur is “famous for its striking appearance and remarkable aerial behaviour”, the group said.

“The bateleur is a truly charismatic and eye-catching bird of prey, with its distinctive plumage — and combination of black, white and vibrant red-orange on the face and legs,” BirdLife said of the species that is equally at home in the bushveld of the Kruger National Park and the arid Kalahari.

The eagle’s English name, bateleur, was coined by François Le Vaillant, a famed 18th-century French explorer, writer and ornithologist, and is said to be French for a “tumbler” or “tightrope walker”. This “aptly describes this bird’s graceful, aerial acrobatics”, according to BirdLife.

“Its isiZulu name, ingqungqulu, is onomatopoeic, referring to the sounds of battle drums due to the species’ relation to war in the Zulu culture. Also very fittingly, its scientific name, Terathopius ecaudatus, is a celebration of its marvellous face, and its short tail,” it said.

The bateleur is sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females can be differentiated based on their plumage or appearance. This is most easily done when they are in flight by looking at their underwing pattern. 

“Males have all-black secondary and inner primary feathers, while females have broad white bases to these feathers,” BirdLife said.

Bateleurs are however in trouble, being classified as regionally endangered with an estimated population reduction of more than 50% over the past 40 years. The regional population size is estimated at fewer than 1 000 mature individuals.

The non-profit bird conservation organisation said it is suspected that habitat transformation has led to a decrease in their available prey base, especially outside protected areas. The tendency of bateleurs to scavenge, too, puts them at particular risk from indiscriminate poisoning, especially by small stock farmers. 

Illegal killing for use in the muti trade is another recent trend which needs further investigation.
The 2023 Bird of the Year is the Cape parrot.