Overview

Distribution

Range Description

Polemaetus bellicosus has an extensive range across much of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal and the Gambia east to Ethiopia and north-west Somalia and south to Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. It is generally scarce to uncommon or rare, but is reasonably common in some areas (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001). It is suspected to have undergone declines in much of its range, including West Africa (Thiollay 2006, H. Rainey in litt. 2013), Namibia (C. Brown in litt. 2009), Nigeria (P. Hall in litt. 2009), Kenya (S. Thomsett in litt. 2013) and South Africa (R. van Eeden in litt. 2013).

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Sub-Saharan Africa: all S of Sahara except forest area and parts of NE.

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Range

Savanna and thornbush of Africa south of the Sahara.

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Geographic Range

Martial eagles (Polemaetus bellicosus) are found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, although they avoid dense forests and are absent from much of central Africa.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

  • Burton, M., R. Burton. 2002. Martial Eagle. Pp. 1586 in P Bernabeo, ed. International Wildlife Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, 3 Edition. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
  • Machange, R., A. Jenkins, R. Navarro. 2005. Eagles as indicators of ecosystem health: Is the distribution of Martial Eagles in the Karoo, South Africa, influenced by variations in land-use and rangeland qualilty?. Journal of Arid Environments, 63/1: 223.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Martial eagles are Africa’s largest eagle. Adults range in size from 78 to 96 cm in length, weighing between 3.1 and 6.2 kg, with a wingspan from 188 to 260 cm. The males are slightly smaller than females (76% of the size). The adults have brown upper-parts and have a short dark crest. The underparts are white with brown to black spots that extend to feathered legs. The bill is long, strongly hooked and black. The toes are bluish gray and armed with large curved talons. The wings are long and slightly pointed with dark tips and dark under-wing coverts, although the flight feathers are barred. The tail is short, lighter in appearance, and is also barred. Females have more spots on the underparts than males do. Juveniles have pale to white upper-parts and have pale wings with light under-wing coverts.

Range mass: 3.1 to 6.2 kg.

Range length: 78 to 96 cm.

Range wingspan: 188 to 260 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: female larger

  • Ferguson-Lees, J., D. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the World. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It inhabits open woodland, wooded savanna, bushy grassland, thornbush and, in southern Africa, more open country and even subdesert, from sea level to 3,000 m but mainly below 1,500 m (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001). The main prey is sizeable mammals, birds and reptiles (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Open habitats

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Martial eagles prefer open habitats including savanna, steppe, semidesert and scrubby woodlands. These eagles require trees for nesting and are absent from arid or cleared areas, although there have been cases of martial eagles in the Karoo region of South Africa using power line supports to form nests. Martial eagles are spread sparsely throughout their geographical range punctuated with pockets of higher densities found in large protected areas, especially in South Africa and Zimbabwe. They can be found at all altitudes under 3000 meters.

Range elevation: 0 to 3000 m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; scrub forest

  • Thiollay, J. 1994. Martial Eagle. Pp. 225 in J del Hoyo, A Elliot, J Sargatal, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 2, 1 Edition. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions.
  • de Goede, K., A. Jenkins. 2001. Electric Eagles of the Karoo. Africa -- Birds & Birding, 6/4: 62.
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Dispersal

Movements and dispersal

Resident

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Martial eagles eat a variety of medium sized mammals, birds, and lizards generally weighing between 1 – 5 kilograms, determined by whatever is available in their territories, including animals much larger than 5 kilograms. In a study in the Cape Province of South Africa, Cape hares (Lepus capensis) were the dominant prey making up 50% of all kills, followed by striped polecats (Ictonyx striatus), genets (Genetta tigrina and G. genetta), ground squirrels (Xerus inauris) and mongooses (Mungos mungo, Helogale parvula, Herpestes ichneumon, and Galerella sanguinea). In some cases game birds and waterfowl make up a large portion of their diet. These include primarily francolins (Francolinus species), bustards (Otididae), and guinea fowls (Numidae). In other areas, martial eagles prey primarily upon rock hyraxes (Procavia capensis). To a lesser extent, martial eagles have hunted: Vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus), baboons (Papio species, especially P. Anubis), small antelopes including: Thomson’s gazelles (Eudocas thomsoni), young impala (Aepyceros melampus), duikers (Cephalopus species), jackals (Canis species), snakes, and monitor lizards (Varanus niloticus, V. exanthematicus). These eagles have been seen killing and eating prey up to 35 kilograms.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)

  • Boshoff, A., N. Plamer, G. Avery. 1990. Regional variation in the diet of Martial Eagles in the Cape Province, South Africa. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 20/2: 57.
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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Martial eagles are apex predators and can be used as an indicator of ecosystem health. They also likely keep prey populations in check.

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Predation

There are no known occurrences of predation on martial eagles, although humans will kill martial eagles if they are perceived as pests.

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Known prey organisms

Polemaetus bellicosus preys on:
Suricata suricatta

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Martial eagles are silent for most of the year, although during mating season they cry kwi-kwi-kluee-kluee. Like all birds, martial eagles perceive their environment through visual, auditory, tactile, and chemical stimuli.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

In the wild, martial eagles are expected only to live an average of 14 years, although one individual was recaptured 25 years after being banded.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
25 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
14 years.

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Reproduction

Martial eagles lack a mating dance although both sexes will make a loud, distinctive cry during mating periods. They form monogamous pairs and reportedly mate for life.

Mating System: monogamous

Martial eagles nest in large trees or pylons often located on hill sides. The nest is a large structure (4 – 6 feet in diameter) made of sticks up to 1.5 inches in diameter and lined with green leaves. Pairs may build multiple nests (up to 7 nests in a given territory) and alternate between nests on successive years. The nests are often re-used from year to year with the female repairing parts of the structure and re-lining the interior with leaves. Mating seasons vary across the geographic range, although it generally occurs during the dry season: from February until November in South, Central and East Africa, from August till January in North East Africa, and in November in West Africa. Martial eagles more often breed once every two years, than once every year.

The female lays generally 1, sometimes 2 eggs. Incubation lasts for 45 to 50 days, and chicks fledge 90 to 100 days after hatching. Juveniles remain close to the nest for up to 6 months, and do not reach full independence until 2 to 3 years of age. Martial eagles reach reproductive maturity at 4 to 5 years of age.

Breeding interval: Martial eagles generally breed annually or biennially.

Breeding season: The breeding season correlates with the dry season across the geographic range.

Range eggs per season: 1 to 2.

Average eggs per season: 1.

Range time to hatching: 45 to 50 days.

Range fledging age: 90 to 100 days.

Average fledging age: 96 days.

Range time to independence: 2 to 3 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 4 to 5 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 4 to 5 years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

The female incubates the egg for the 45 to 50 days it takes for a chick to hatch, although males have been observed incubating. Males rarely bring food to incubating females until the egg hatches, after which males will hunt and feed females for approximately 2 months. Chicks are born without feathers and become fully fledged after 90 days, and after which they attempt their first flight. Juveniles spend several years in the nest region before being chased off by the adults.

Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents

  • Allan, D. 1996. Photographic Guide to Birds of Southern, Central, and East Africa. Cape Town, South Africa: Struik Publishers.
  • Brown, L. 1966. Observations on some Kenya Eagles. Ibis, 108/4: 531.
  • Burton, M., R. Burton. 2002. Martial Eagle. Pp. 1586 in P Bernabeo, ed. International Wildlife Encyclopedia, Vol. 12, 3 Edition. Tarrytown, New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation.
  • Machange, R., A. Jenkins, R. Navarro. 2005. Eagles as indicators of ecosystem health: Is the distribution of Martial Eagles in the Karoo, South Africa, influenced by variations in land-use and rangeland qualilty?. Journal of Arid Environments, 63/1: 223.
  • Simmons, R., C. Brown. 2006. Birds to Watch in Nambia: red, rare, and endemic species. Windhoek, Namibia: National Biodiversity Programme.
  • Thiollay, J. 1994. Martial Eagle. Pp. 225 in J del Hoyo, A Elliot, J Sargatal, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 2, 1 Edition. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
A2acde+3cde+4acde

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Ajama, A., Baker, N., Brewster, C., Brown, C., Daniel, O., Hall, P., Tyler, S., Coetzee, R., van Eeden, R., Rainey, H. & Thomsett, S.

Justification
This species has been uplisted to Vulnerable because it is suspected to have undergone rapid declines during the past three generations (56 years) owing to deliberate and incidental poisoning, habitat loss, reduction in available prey, pollution and collisions with power lines. Further information on trends across its large range may lead to its further uplisting to Endangered in the future.


History
  • 2012
    Near Threatened
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Near Threatened

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According to the IUCN Red List, martial eagles are near threatened and their populations are declining throughout their geographic range. Locally, West Africa populations are declining and their presence is rare. In Namibia, martial eagles are endangered due to a decline of 80% in their population over a five year period, where there are approximately only 350 pairs in the country. The population decline can be attributed to shooting and poisoning from local farmers and ranchers, electrocution from nesting on power lines, drowning from attempting to drink at steep-sided reserves, and starvation from the extermination of common food sources.

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened

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Population

Population
The global population has not been quantified, but was estimated as probably 'in tens of thousands' by Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001), while the South African population was believed to be no larger than 600 pairs (Barnes 2000).


Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
The species suffers from direct persecution (shooting and trapping) by farmers, indirect poisoning (these two threats by far the most important causes of losses), drowning in sheer-walled reservoirs, electrocution on power lines, and habitat alteration and degradation (Global Raptor Information Network 2009). Poisoning is largely carried out by a few large-scale commercial farmers, but is also a problem in tribal small-stock farming communities. Deforestation may be having less of an impact on this species than on other large eagles as it can utilise man-made structures for nesting. Large mammal populations in West Africa are highly threatened and the threats are likely to increase in the future as human populations continue to grow. (H. Rainey in litt. 2013). Reduction in natural prey may lead to an increase in predation on domestic animals which may in turn lead to increased persecution by farmers. In some areas birds may be taken for use in traditional medicine, and parts have been found in muthi markets in Johannesburg (R. Coetzee in litt. 2013). The majority of protected areas in Kenya are too small to hold a single pair (S. Thomsett in litt. 2013), and the size of territory means that birds nesting in protected areas will generally forage far outside them, making them more vulnerable to persecution. In South Africa the highest declines were observed in areas with the greatest increase in temperature and areas with high densities of power lines, probably due to collisions and electrocutions. In Kruger National Park, higher densities of elephants were related to larger declines in Martial Eagles, probably as a result of a reduction in nesting sites or changes in habitat quality (R. van Eeden in litt. 2013).

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
A system to compensate farmers for stock losses has been initiated in South Africa.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Introduce programmes combining awareness campaigns and compensation to farmers for stock losses across the species's range. Install anti-electrocution devices on electricity pylons. Implement education and awareness campaigns across its range to reduce the use of poisoned baits. Carry out regular population monitoring across its range.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Martial eagles are thought to be the most severely persecuted raptor in South Africa since it sometimes feeds on domesticated poultry, small lambs, and goats. However, a study in Nambia reported these predations make up a small portion (< 1%) of an eagles diet even in areas dominated by small ranchers. Unfortunately, many farmers use poison to ward off predators and many eagles are harmed in this non-specific, deadly method.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

While the results are not clear, it has been suggested that in the Karoo region of South Africa, martial eagles benefit small-stock farmers by managing populations of small grazing mammals that compete with their own domestic grazing animals. In general though, these eagles are very rare outside of protected areas and avoid humans.

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Wikipedia

Martial eagle

For the ninth episode of the second season of the television series The Americans, see Martial Eagle (The Americans).

The martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) is a large eagle found in open and semi-open habitats of sub-Saharan Africa. It is the only member of the genus Polemaetus.

Description[edit]

The martial eagle is a very large eagle, with a length of 78–96 cm (31–38 in), weight of 3–6.2 kg (6.6–13.7 lb) and a wingspan of 188–260 cm (6 ft 2 in–8 ft 6 in).[2][3][4] Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 56–67.5 cm (22.0–26.6 in), the tail is 27.2–32 cm (10.7–12.6 in), the tarsus is 9.7–13 cm (3.8–5.1 in).[2] This is the largest eagle in Africa and is the fifth heaviest (on average) eagle in the world.[2][4]

The adult's plumage consists of dark grey-brown coloration on the upperparts, head and upper chest, with slightly lighter edging to these feathers. The body underparts are white with blackish-brown spotting. The underwing coverts are brown, with pale flight feathers being streaked with black. The female is usually larger and more spotted than the male. The immature is paler above, often whitish on the head and chest, and has less spotted underparts. It reaches adult plumage in its seventh year. Martial eagles have a short erectile crest, which is often not prominent. It often perches in a quite upright position, with its long wings completely covering the tail. The bill, at 5.5 cm (2.2 in), is strong and the legs are feathered to the heavy, powerful feet.[2] There are few serious identification challenges for the species. The black-chested snake eagle is smaller, with a relatively more prominent head and white lining the flight feathers. The crowned eagle, which also regularly perches in an erect position, has distinctly shorter wings and a distinctly longer tail and, though its plumage is fairly variable, it is more scaled on the back and it has distinctive barring on the underparts and the wings. More so than any other African eagle, the martial eagle is often seen only in flight.[2]

Martial eagles have been noted as remarkable for their extremely keen eyesight (3.0–3.6 times human acuity). Due to this power, they can spot potential prey from a very great distance.[5]

Range and habitat[edit]

The martial eagle can be found in most of sub-Saharan Africa, wherever food is abundant and the environment favourable. It is never common, but greater population densities do exist in southern Africa, especially in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Generally, these birds are more abundant in protected areas such as Kruger National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa, or Etosha National Park in Namibia.

Its preferred habitat is open woods and woodland edges, wooded savannah and thornbush habitats. It is not found in dense tropical forests such as the Guinean and Congolian forests, but needs trees to nest in and to use for obstruction while hunting. In southern Africa, they have adapted to more open habitats, such as semi-desert and open savanna with scattered trees, wooded hillocks and, as a recent adaptation, around pylons. They usually seem to prefer desolate or protected areas. The territory can vary greatly in size from more than 1,000 km2 (390 sq mi) to areas where nests are less than 10 km (6.2 mi) distant. This disparity is due to differences in food supply.[2][4]

Immature bird.

Diet[edit]

The martial eagle is one of the world's most powerful avian predators and, among African raptors, only the crowned eagle is comparable in predatory dominance. The martial eagle is an apex predator, being at the top of the avian food chain in its environment and, if in healthy condition, having no natural predators. Although the ranges of the martial and crowned eagles occasionally abut each other, the species have differing habitat preferences, with the crowned preferring denser forests as opposed to the wooded savanna preferred by the martial eagle, and the two are not known to compete directly.[6] The diet of the martial eagle varies greatly with prey availability and can be dictated largely by opportunity. One study of the eagles in Kruger National Park found that 45% of their diet was made up of birds, particularly game birds and Egyptian geese. Reptiles, especially lizards like monitor lizards and snakes, including Cape cobras, boomslangs, puff adders, both green mambas, and even young black mambas and African Rock Pythons, made up 38%. The remaining 17% of prey in the study were made up of mammalian prey (which is detailed below).[7]

Among bird prey, martial eagles often choose to predate medium-sized ground-dwelling species such as francolins, guineafowl or bustards. Other birds predated have included young ostriches, storks, herons, other waterfowl, hornbills and quelea flocks.[2] At one eyrie, the remains of six spotted eagle-owls were counted.[2] Martial eagle occasionally predate adult Kori bustard, which are possibly the heaviest flying animal alive today.[2] In some areas mammals constitute the greater part of the diet than birds or reptiles. Among regular mammal prey are hares, hyraxes, mongooses, squirrels, springhares, rats, genets, foxes, baboons, other monkeys, young warthogs dikdiks, young impala and various other young or small antelope.[2] Large and formidable prey are not unheard of, with carnivores such as caracal, servals and black-backed jackals having been killed by this eagle.[2] Martial eagles have predated adult duikers weighing up to 37 kg (82 lbs), perhaps the heaviest live prey item recorded for any wild raptor.[2] Oversized prey, being any that are notably heavier than the eagle itself, are returned to repeatedly after the kill for feeding by both members of a breeding pair, since it is too heavy to take flight with or carry in flight.[2] However, most prey items weigh under 5 kg (11 lb).[2] Martial eagles may additionally attack domestic livestock, including poultry, lambs and young goats, but this is never a great part of the diet.[8]

The martial eagle hunts mostly in flight, circling high above its territory, and stooping sharply to catch its prey by surprise. Prey may be spotted from 3 to 5 kilometers away. On occasion, they may still-hunt from a high perch or concealed in vegetation near watering holes. Unusually for a bird of its size, it may hover while hunting. Birds are typically killed on the ground or in trees, but there are records of bird prey being killed in mid-flight.[2]

Young bird in Masai Mara, Kenya

Nesting[edit]

Martial eagles may breed in various months in different parts of their range. The mating season is in November through April in Senegal, January to June in Sudan, August to July in northeast Africa and almost any month in eastern Africa, though mostly in April–November. Martial eagles have been thought to have no distinctive display flight, but they do engage in a subtle one, with the males flying mildly around in circles. Rarely, the female joins him and the pair grasp talons with each other.[2] During the breeding season, these typically silent birds utter a loud cry klee-klee-klee-kloeee-kloeee-kuleee. They build their nests in large trees, often placing them in the main fork of tree at 6–20 m (20–66 ft) off the ground, though nests have been recorded from 5 to 70 m (16 to 230 ft) high, in the highest cases on top of the tree canopy. Often trees used are on the sides of cliffs, ridges, valley or hilltop, with one nest having been found within a cave. In the karoo of South Africa, they have also nested on electric-power pylons.[9] The nest is a huge construction of sticks. In the first year of construction, the nest is 1.2 to 1.5 m (3.9 to 4.9 ft) in diameter and 0.6 m (2.0 ft) deep. After regular use over several years, the nests can regularly measure in excess of 2 m (6.6 ft) in both diameter and depth. Martial eagles have a slow breeding rate, laying usually one egg (rarely two) every two years. The egg is incubated for 45 to 53 days and the chick fledged at 96 to 104 days. Despite increasing signs of independence (such as flight and beginning to practice hunting), juvenile birds will remain in the care of their parents for a further 6 to 12 months. Due to this long dependence period, these eagles can usually only mate in alternate years.

Conservation issues[edit]

The martial eagle is probably naturally scarce, due to its requirement for large territories and low reproductive rates. However, the species has been experiencing a major decline in numbers in recent years, due largely to being directly killed by humans. Its conservation status was uplisted to Near Threatened in 2009 and to Vulnerable in 2013 and another uplisting is already expected.[1] In many areas where they come into contact with humans, eagle populations have decreased greatly through persecution via shooting and poisoning. The reasoning behind such persecution is that martial eagles are taken as a predatory threat to livestock. Despite this perception, in reality domestic animals constitute only a small proportion of the species' diet, whereas the presence of eagles is a sure sign of a healthy environment. Indirect threats, such as collision with power-lines, are also a common modern problem for martial eagles.[9] Another hazard is caused by steep sided farm reservoirs, in which many birds drown. In South Africa, this eagle may have lost 20% of its population in the last three generations due to such collisions.[10] Further excerbating the problems faced by the martial eagle, habitat destruction and reduction of prey continues to occur at a high rate outside of protected areas.[2] The preservation of this species depends on education of farmers, and the increase of protected areas where the species can nest and hunt.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b BirdLife International (2013). "Polemaetus bellicosus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Ferguson-Lees & Christie, Raptors of the World. Houghton Mifflin Company (2001), ISBN 978-0-618-12762-7
  3. ^ Polemaetus bellicosus- University of Michigan Species Profile
  4. ^ a b c Kemp, A. C. (1994). Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus). Pp. 200-201 in: del Hoyo, Elliott & Sargatal. eds. (1994). Handbook of the Birds of the World, vol. 2. ISBN 84-87334-15-6
  5. ^ Shlaer, Robert (1972-05-26). "An Eagle's Eye: Quality of the Retinal Image". Science 176 (4037): 920–922. doi:10.1126/science.176.4037.920. PMID 5033635. Retrieved 2012-04-16. 
  6. ^ African Raptor interview
  7. ^ "Kruger Park Birding: Eagles and Hawk-Eagles Birding Raptor Guide". Kruger National Park - Bird Education. Siyabona Africa: Your Informed African Travel Partner. Retrieved 9 December 2011. 
  8. ^ http://md1.csa.com/partners/viewrecord.php?requester=gs&collection=ENV&recid=2393850&q=Boshoff+diet++martial+eagles+&uid=788893444&setcookie=yes Regional variation in the diet of martial eagles in the Cape Province, South Africa. Boshoff, AF; Palmer, NG; Avery, G(1990).
  9. ^ a b Electric eagles of the Karoo, Koos De Goede and Andrew Jenkins(2001).
  10. ^ Barnes, KN (ed)(2000). The Eskom Red data book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, Birdlife South Africa, Johannesburg. ISBN 0-620-25499-8
  • Leslie Brown & Dean Amadon(1989).Eagles Hawks & Falcons of the World, The Wellfleet Press. ISBN 1-55521-472-X
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