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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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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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.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Physical Description

Morphology

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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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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Open habitats

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Dispersal

Movements and dispersal

Resident

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Trophic Strategy

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

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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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

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

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

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: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

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 (NT)
  • Near Threatened (NT)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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