Buteo Rufofuscus, better known as the Jackal Buzzard, is a large bird of prey which is fairly common in Africa. They are classified as ‘raptors’, which means a bird of prey that feeds on vertebrates. Their prey is often quite large compared to their own size.
Whilst jackal buzzards are native to Southern Namibia and South Africa, their population is rising steadily across the continent.
This means they are not a cause for concern for conservationists, despite often being targeted and killed by poisoned carcusses. They are also vulnerable to man-made machines such as wind turbines and telegraph poles.
These birds of prey are non-migratory, remaining in Africa all year round. They have a distinct call similar to the yelp of a jackal, which is how they got their unusual name.
This article will take you through all of the key information you need to know about jackal buzzards. Their appearance and distinctive features, details of their habitat, their behavioural traits and mating habits, and their hunting style and diet.
Keep reading to find out more about this fascinating and impressive bird of prey.
Adult jackal buzzards measure between 17 and 24 inches in length and between 790-1700kg in weight. This equates to around 40-60 cm and 1742 and 37478 pounds. The females are usually heavier and larger than the males.
The heaviest recorded birds of the species were female. The wingspan of an adult jackal buzzard ranges from 4ft 2inches to 4ft 8 inches, which is 127 cm to 143 cm.
The plumage of an adult jackal buzzard is considered by many as the most attractive out of all buzzard species. Most of their feathers are very dark, almost black, changing to a reddish brown color at the tail.
Their secondary flight feathers are white with black stripes creating a large white panel when viewed from underneath, edged dramatically in black feathers that lead to the tip of the wing.
The feathers around their chin are mainly chestnut colored. The juvenile jackal buzzards have mostly brown feathers, with some reddish brown. Their underwings are brown streaked with white.
Their paler colouring makes them easily distinguishable from the adult jackal buzzards.
The jackal buzzard has a distinctive body shape. They are fairly bulky with short tails and broad wings. Their bills are larger than most other buzzard species, and are black and yellow in color. Their legs and feet are also yellow, and they have dark reddish brown eyes.
Jackal buzzards are predominantly a mountain-dwelling species, living at altitudes of up to 3000 meters (9843 feet). But they have also been known to live on lower rocky outcrops and even sea-level rubble.
They prefer to have access to grasslands for hunting, such as the Savannah grasslands that can be found adjacent to the mountains. They are fairly adaptable, able to survive in both wet and dry climates.
Whilst they are native to Southern Africa they can be found in various countries across the continent, like Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. There are fewer jackal buzzards in the North of Africa.
Whilst the species itself has spread across Africa, individual birds themselves are fairly sedentary in their travel habits and will stay fairly close to one territory.
Their range will often depend on availability of food and prey, and some juveniles will travel further to find new territory when they first become independent.
One of the most distinctive behavioral traits of the jackal buzzard is their sharp call. It sounds similar to a bark, and is the reason they were named after the jackal – a species of scavenger canines.
The female call is deeper than the male, but both sexes are vocal all year round. The call of the jackal buzzard is often compared to that of an American red-tailed hawk.
Like other species of buzzard, jackal buzzards are territorial and monogamous, usually mating for life. The peak breeding season for this species of buzzard is July to December, but can range from May all the way through the winter months into March.
Mating pairs put on aerial displays which are often fairly noisy, but not as dramatic as some other buzzard species such as the Augur buzzard. Their movements include circling around each other and gentle stoops performed by the male.
Jackal buzzards build their nests on crags or in trees between 15-30ft (4-9 meters) off the ground. Both the male and the female will help with the nest-building, using large sticks and lining the nest with grass and green leaves.
They often return to the same nest for multiple seasons, improving it and making it bigger each year. The initial nest will usually measure between 24 and 28 inches (60 to 70 cm) in diameter, but can expand to more than 3ft (1 meter) after multiple uses.
The females incubate the eggs, which are normally less than 3 inches (8 cm) tall, while the males will hunt and bring her food. The females will usually lay two or three eggs that are whitish blue in color, sometimes with brown speckles.
The eggs take around 40 days to hatch, but it is another 50-60 days before the fledglings can attempt to fly. During this time, both parents will be very defensive of the nest, attacking any animals or humans that get too close.
Siblings have been known to kill each other if food supplies are low, but most jackal buzzard parents manage to successfully rear two fledglings.
The fledglings become independent of the nest at around 70 days old, but it is not unusual for them to stay with their parents for some time after this point. Fledglings are born with white downy feathers that gradually become darker over time as their feathers turn brown.
Jackal buzzards mainly prey on small mammals that live on the ground such as rodents. They will also eat various types of insects, birds, snakes and lizards.
Jackal buzzards hunt small animals from prominent lookout perches, swooping down to scoop up their prey from the ground. This hunting method can make them vulnerable to being hit by cars as they will swoop down from telephone poles and into the road.
Jackal buzzards are also known to soar in the skies, sometimes utilizing strong wings to hover and hang in place with their wings slightly bent, looking for prey on the ground below.
If feeding on smaller birds, they will often intercept them mid-flight. Jackal buzzards fly with deep strong wing strokes, powerful in the air but not covering great distances.
During mating season, jackal buzzards will mostly stick to hunting small mammals that can easily be carried back to the nest, like various species of rats, brown striped mice and golden moles.
Outside of mating season, the buzzards will catch bigger prey that they can eat on the spot or carry a shorter distance.
Jackal buzzards will also take advantage of road kill or abandoned carcusses, particularly in the Winter months. This gives them a more varied diet including sheep, goat, hares and rabbits and even springbok.
However, this style of eating makes them susceptible to poisoning as mentioned above. They also have to be weary of other scavengers like hyenas, vultures and jackals.
They will usually wait for other scavengers to clear the carcass before approaching to make sure they don’t get involved in a fight, as scavenger species are often aggressive in nature.
Letting the other scavengers go first also benefits them as they are not best equipped to penetrate the skin of a fresh carcass. Jackal buzzards do not rely on carcusses as heavily as some other bird of prey species.
There have been some instances of jackal buzzards catching bigger, more dangerous prey such as marsh owls, puff adders, and mongoose.
If you are interested in biology and taxonomy, here is some interesting information about the scientific classification of the jackal buzzard.
Jackal Buzzards are in the Kingdom ‘Animalia’ – multicellular organisms that consume organic material, breathe oxygen and reproduce sexually.
They are in the ‘Chordate’ Phylum, which means they have a circulatory system and a hollow nervous chord.
Their class is ‘Aves’- warm-blooded birds with feathers and toothless, beaked jaws. Aves are also grouped together as they lay hard-shelled eggs.
Jackal buzzards are in the ‘Accipitriformes’ Order which includes other birds of prey such as hawks and eagles, and their family is the ‘Accipitridae’- small to large birds with hooked bills.
Jackal buzzards belong to the Genus ‘Buteo’ which is made up of medium to large raptor birds with a robust body and broad wings.
Some taxonomists believe that jackal buzzards should not be a separate species, but should be classified as a ‘superspecies’ alongside the Augur buzzard and Archer’s buzzard, due to their genetic similarities.
However, the majority of taxonomists feel that the differences in plumage, home rangers and calls make these three types of buzzard distinct enough to have their own species.