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Jackal buzzards are usually spotted in flight or perched on fence poles. So when two Wild Card members spotted one on the ground in Addo, they knew something was up.

For self-proclaimed Addo addicts Karen and Barry Christensen, the jackal buzzard is one of South Africa’s most beautiful raptors. On a recent visit to the park, the couple bagged a prized and first-time sighting of a handsome jackal buzzard on the hunt.

“We make every effort to get to Addo Elephant National Park as often as possible. We have been regular visitors to this national park for about four years now,” says Karen.

However, in all that time the Christensens had never come across a jackal buzzard on the ground before – until their visit last month. When they realised the raptor had just caught a mole-rat, they were even more surprised.

“We were driving on Ngulube Loop, just before the waterhole, at about 14:15 when the bird delighted us with its appearance. We had never seen a jackal buzzard in action like this before. Although we had previously witnessed a black-headed heron devouring a lizard, it was not nearly as spectacular as this jackal buzzard sighting.”

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Is this jackal buzzard hiding something? What exactly is in its beak? Pictures by Karen Christensen

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The bird quickly senses Karen and Barry’s presence and looks up to reveal its find – a baby mole-rat.

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With the bird in close proximity to Karen and Barry’s vehicle, out in the open, Karen had ample opportunities to photograph the action.

“I thought: ‘Good grief! How awesome is this!’ I quickly grabbed my camera, wary that it might fly off sooner than later. It took the jackal buzzard about eight minutes to catch and swallow the mole-rat…”

But first, the jackal buzzard rips its meal in two, which makes swallowing the mole-rat somewhat easier.

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The expert says…

For such a big bird, one wonders whether something like a small mole-rat (Cryptomys hottentotus), would fill the jackal buzzard’s belly? Prof. Peter Ryan, director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, says: “In terms of meal size; it wouldn’t sustain the buzzard for a day, but would be a good-sized snack.”

Good to know

  • The jackal buzzard’s scientific name is Buteo rufofuscusrufofuscus means ‘dusky red’ referring to the colour of the bird’s chest and tail.
  • To distinguish the jackal buzzard from the similar-looking augur buzzard or juvenile bateleur, look for the jackal buzzard’s distinctive underwing pattern: dark underwing coverts, white flight feathers with a dark trailing edge and indistinct barring.
  • Jackal buzzards prefer grassy areas with short vegetation and occur in mountainous or hilly habitats.
Additional source: The Raptor Guide of Southern Africa. Ulrich Oberprieler and Burger Cillié. 2009. Game Parks Publishing.