Martial Eagle

Polemaetus bellicosus

The Martial Eagle, with a wingspan of up to 2.6m and weight of as much as 6kg, is Africa’s biggest eagle. Females are considerably larger than males. They occupy a wide range of flat and open habitats, ranging from semi-desert to woodland. Martial Eagles are big and powerful enough to subsist on a diet of large vertebrates up to the size of small antelopes and kori bustards, and have a special taste for nile and rock monitor lizards. Their exceptional eyesight allows them to detect prey from even 6km distant, and they often soar at great height.

Martial Eagles are usually seen singly or in pairs, adults forming monogamous, permanent pair-bonds and defending a sizable territory. They prefer to build their huge stick nests in tall trees but will also utilise man-made structures like utility pylons and windpumps for the purpose. The breeding season stretches from autumn to spring, with a single egg being laid. The female takes most of the responsibility for incubating the egg (which takes around 7 weeks) and brooding the chick, only starting to help the male hunt a fortnight or so after the chick has hatched. While the chick makes its first flight at an age of about 3 months it will remain with its parents until they start breeding again.

Martial Eagles occur throughout South Africa, but are most numerous inside our bigger conservation areas and uncommon outside these areas, and have for the most part been exterminated entirely from urbanized environs. It also occurs widely over sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the equatorial forests. It is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, with populations declining mainly as a result of being persecuted as stock killers and through loss of habitat and natural prey,

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