The Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus is the largest of all African eagles and can grow to 83cm in length and has a huge wingspan of up to 260cm. It is the only member of the genus Polemaetus and is confined to sub-Saharan Africa. Immature birds take up to 7 years to develop their adult plumage and even although they become independent once they leave the nest, they often stay in their natal area for up to 6 months. It is a bird of open country; the Martial Eagle usually will seek some large tree to build its nest, although in the absence of trees it will use electricity pylons i.e. in the Karoo desert (South Africa). The nest is a massive construction and is used year after year, it can measure over 2m in diameter and 1m deep!
The Martial Eagle usually hunts by soaring high above its territory and will stoop rapidly to surprise its prey, less frequently they will use high vantage points, such as trees, from which to survey the ground for prey. Food mostly comprises of medium sized animals and birds such as hares, mongoose, hyrax, francolin, guineafowl and bustards, but they are known to take birds up to the size of a stork and on several occasions they have been seen taking animals up to the size of young impala photograph to the right, a fearsome predator! The size of territory depends on the all year abundance of prey, but generally they measure around 1000 km², although in the most favourable areas some nests can be as close as 10km apart.
Although the Martial Eagle can be found in all sub-Saharan Africa, they are most common in the more southerly areas such as Kenya, Botswana and South Africa. They are more easily seen in protected areas and large parks wherever the food is abundant and the environment is suitable. It prefers open savannah and semi desert regions, although some trees are necessary for nesting. These eagles have a very slow reproduction rate, laying a maximum of one egg every two years. Incubation takes around 45 days and the chick is normally fledged at 100 days. There are concerns over the future for this species, especially where they come into contact with man. It suffers from shooting and poisoning as they are accused of killing livestock, though in truth domestic animals form a small part of their diet.
Conservation is mostly concentrated on the education of farmers and direct protection of nest sites. Apart from the threats posed by illegal shooting and poisoning, the species also suffers from collision with power lines and more frequently drowning in steep sided farm reservoirs. It is estimated that the population in South Africa has reduced by 20% in the last three generations! Why not join us at Spanish Nature and accompany us on one of our tours to see this magnificent eagle?
Some recommended links for tours to see this, the lord of the sky in Africa:
Botswana keep an eye to this website for news on a upcoming recce tour for Botswana during 2011