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Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Terathopius ecaudatus, Bateleur

Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Common name

  • Bateleur or Bateleur Eagle
  • Etymology
    • Name derived from the animal’s habit of turning somersaults in the air (Stark 1903)
      • Translated from French to mean “a tightrope walker or balancer” (Brown 1955)

Scientific name

  • Etymology
    • Genus Terathopius etymology unclear
      • First designated by Lesson in 1831
    • Specific epithet ecaudatus from a combination of Latin words; ex meaning “without” cauda meaning “the tail” and atus meaning “provided with”
      • The combined meaning “not provided with a tail” (Brown 1956; Gotch 1995)
  • Synonyms
    • Falco ecaudatus
    • Helotarsus ecaudatus (Fuertes 1930; Stark 1903)

Evolutionary History

Order Acciptriformes (from Hackett et al. 2008)

  • Includes 4 families
    • Cathartidae (New World vultures)
    • Sagittaridae (Secretary Bird)
    • Pandionidae (Ospreys)
    • Accipitridae (Eagles, hawks, kites, and Old World vultures)

Family Accipitridae

  • An extremely diverse family
    • Includes as many as 67 genera (ITIS 2015)
    • >230 extant (living) species (Lerner and Mindell 2005)
  • Close relatives
    • Accipitrids are closely allied with osprey (pandionids) (from Hackett et al. 2008)
      • Clades are sister to one another

Genus Terathopius

  • Close relatives
    • Snake Eagles (Griffiths et al. 2007)
      • Shared features (from Lerner and Mindell 2005)
        • A highly branched pattern of heavy scales on the tarsi (lower leg)
        • Relatively short toes
      • Appear closely allied with some of the Old World Vultures

Cultural History

Cultural beliefs

  • Forecasters of change in seasonal weather (from Okonya and Kroschel 2013)
    • Calling of some birds, including the Bateleur, foretells the onset of the dry season
      • A belief of some farmers in the Gulu region of Uganda
  • Use in traditional medicine (from Wilmsen 2014)
    • An ingredient in a rainmaker’s ointment, by the Bakgatla
      • Feathers of the Bateleur, along with other plant and animals parts, are ground into a powder and mixed with sheep fat
      • The ointment, in combination with a “lightning” whistle (sometimes made from the wing bone of a Bateleur), is used to call on ancestors to bring rain
    • Feathers and brains made into cigarettes, by the Ndebele
      • Individuals smoke such cigarettes to obtain “dreaming” powers or to gain good luck
  • Great Zimbabwe birds (from Huffman 1985; Hubbard 2009; Matenga 1998)
    • Carved soapstone figures in southern Africa’s first city, Great Zimbabwe
      • Believed to date 1300-1450 CE
      • Appearance of carvings
        • Birds of prey with human features; set atop pedestals
          • Likely based on the body of a Bateleur or the African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer)
          • Birds measure c. 30 cm (11.8 in); pedestal c. 1 m (3.3 ft) high
          • Some birds have lips rather than a beak
    • The Zimbabwe bird is the national emblem of Zimbabwe
      • Appears on the national flag and currency of this country
  • Shona culture and cosmology in Zimbabwe
    • Bateleurs are portentous animals (from Hubbard 2009; Huffman 1985; Matenga 1998 unless otherwise noted)
      • Serve as a divine messengers
        • Eagles travel between heaven and earth carrying messages linking the ancestors with God (Wilmsen 2014)
    • Cry (vocalization) believed to signal grave danger to those nearby
    • Subjects in moral poetry (from Fortune 1971)
      • A stingy person is compared to a Bateleur
        • She who gives dogs only maize porridge, that made from rice would give them mange; neighbor to the Bateleur Eagles who never drop a feather to the ground.”


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Acciptriformes

Family: Accipitridae

Genus: Terathopius (Lesson, 1830)

Species: Terathopius ecaudatus (Daudin, 1800) — Bateleur

Source: ITIS (2015)


Bateleur painting from 1927

A 1927 depiction of a Bateleur by painter Louis Agassiz Fuertes (b. 1874-d. 1927).

Plate No. 12 from Album of Abyssinian Birds and Mammals. DOI:

Image credit: © Biodiversity Heritage Library via Flickr. Some rights reserved; Creative Commons "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic" license.

Page Citations

Brown (1955)
Brown (1956)
Fortune (1971)
Fuertes (1930)
Gotch (1995)
Griffiths et al. (2007)
Hackett et al. (2008)
Hubbard (2009)
Huffman (1985)
ITIS (2015)
Lerner and Mindell (2005)
Matenga (1998)
Okonya and Kroschel (2013)
Stark (1903)
Wilmsen (2014)

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