Family Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)

Vulnerable

Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus)

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Taxonomy

French: Aigle martial German: Kampfadler Spanish: Águila marcial
Taxonomy:

Falco bellicosus

Daudin

, 1800,

Great Namaqualand, South Africa

.

Monotypic.

Distribution:

Senegambia E through W & C Africa to Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, and S to South Africa.

Descriptive notes

78–96 cm#R; 3010–6200 g; wingspan 188–227 cm#R. Along with Stephanoaetus coronatus, one of the two largest eagles in Africa. Large head and long, broad blackish wings notable; upperparts, head, throat and upper breast dark brown; rest of underparts white with brown spots. Grey-and-white juvenile resembles juvenile Stephanoaetus coronatus, but has shorter tail, longer wings and pure white underparts (versus buffy wash on upper breast in Stephanoaetus). Irides yellow in adult, brownish in juvenile; cere and feet greenish-grey#R.

Drawing by Ian Willis
Descriptive notes:

78–96 cm#R; 3010–6200 g; wingspan 188–227 cm#R. Along with Stephanoaetus coronatus, one of the two largest eagles in Africa. Large head and long, broad blackish wings notable; upperparts, head, throat and upper breast dark brown; rest of underparts white with brown spots. Grey-and-white juvenile resembles juvenile Stephanoaetus coronatus, but has shorter tail, longer wings and pure white underparts (versus buffy wash on upper breast in Stephanoaetus). Irides yellow in adult, brownish in juvenile; cere and feet greenish-grey#R.

Voice

Generally silent, except during breeding season. Main call is a low, mellow-sounding, plaintive whistle “koweeoh”, used primarily in contact between pair members. In aerial display, a longer series of whistles “klee-klee-klee-klee” is given. Immatures utter a similar series of whistles when calling to parents.

Habitat

Prefers sparse woodlands and woodland edges and other open habitats such as deserts, steppes, savannas, grasslands and shrublands. Generally avoids settled areas. Occurs mostly below 1500 m elevation, occasionally up to 3000 m#R.

Food and feeding

Mainly vertebrates weighing 1–5 kg, with large birds (e.g. gamebirds and waterfowl), monitor lizards, or mammals (e.g. hares, hyraxes, mongooses, monkeys and small antelopes) predominating as prey in different habitats#R#R. Takes some small livestock and poultry. Hunts for long periods on the wing, soaring high overhead in search of prey and striking after a long shallow dive, sometimes concealed behind cover. May also strike from a prominent perch. Thirty-nine prey items from Zimbabwe included 27 reptiles (all monitors), nine birds (guineafowl, francolins, hornbills and a plover) and only three mammals, a scrub hare (Lepus saxatalis) and two steenboks (Raphicerus campestris)#R. Occasionally takes other raptors such as Spotted Eagle-owl (Bubo africanus) and White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis)#R, and Ostrich (Struthio camelus) chicks#R.

Breeding

Highly variable nesting season, from Nov–Apr in Senegal, Jan–Jun in Sudan, any month in E Africa (especially Apr–Nov), Apr–Dec in Zambia, Mar–Jan (especially May–Jun) in South Africa#R#R. Builds large structure (1·2–1·5 m across, 60 cm deep#R) of sticks in main fork of emergent tree, or even on a power pylon, cliff or boulder in open areas, 5–70 m above ground#R. Nest often visible from far off, and well lined with green leaves when active. Single egg (rarely 2); incubation 47–53 days; chick has down dark grey above and white below; fledging 96–104 days; may remain dependent on parents for 8–12 months after fledging. Breeds annually in some areas (South Africa), biennially in others (Zimbabwe). On basis of 53 breeding attempts on 16 territories in South Africa monitored from 1988–1994, mean of 0·43 young fledged per pair per year#R.

Movements

Juveniles may move widely during dispersal periods; no known movements of adults outside normal home ranges#R. One marked pair remained on same territory in South Africa for at least 10 years#R.

Status and conservation

VULNERABLE. CITES II. Widespread and common in E and S Africa, less so in W Africa, but populations apparently in rapid decline due to poisoning, shooting, habitat loss, reduction in available prey, pollution, collisions with power lines and electrocution #R#R#R. Global population roughly estimated to be "in tens of thousands". Occupies many types of savanna and steppe, but occurs at low densities with home ranges of 108–302 km2. Estimated 110 pairs for Hwange National Park (Zimbabwe), and 100–120 for Kruger National Park and 500 pairs for whole of Transvaal (South Africa). Occurs in many large national parks, reserves and extensive ranching areas, spreading range into treeless areas by use of power pylons. Heavily persecuted in some small stock and free range poultry farming areas, and extirpated from parts of South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Breeding in immature plumage might indicate population decline, e.g. in Transvaal. Not known to be affected by pesticides.

Recommended citation

Kemp, A.C., Boesman, P. & Marks, J.S. (2019). Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/53171 on 21 April 2019).