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The Martial Eagle


The Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) is one of the largest eagle species in Africa (Brown and Amadon 1968). Adult Martial Eagles have a dark head, dark upperparts and a dark upper breast. They have white underparts that are speckled black. Immature Martial Eagles have grey mottled upperparts, head and upper breat. Immatures can take approimately 5-6 years to reach adult plumage. The only species in the Maasai Mara that an observer could confuse an adult Martial Eagle with is an adult Black-chested Snake Eagle. Black-chested Snake Eagles are consderiably smaller than Martial Eagles, they lack the powerful talons and their underparts are not speckled black. 


Adult Martial Eagle

Adult Black-chested Snake Eagle

Immature Martial Eagle

Habitat, Range and Status

The Martial Eagle is an inhabitant of savannah grassland, woodland, and semi-desert ecosystems (Brown and Amadon 1968) throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Its current population status is largely unknown,  but numbers are considered to be declining in South Africa, Namibia, Niger, Burkina Faso and Kenya(Brown 1991, Barnes 2000, Thiollay 2006, Thomsett and Virani pers. comm.); consequently, the Martial Eagle has been listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, and is a candidate for listing as an endangered species (BirdLife International 2015). 


The diet of Martial Eagles has been found to vary considerably with habitat (Boshoff et al. 1990). Game birds (Guinea fowl, Francolin and Bustards), small mammals (hares, hyrax, mongoose and small antelopes) and monitor lizards compromise a majority of their diet (Brown 1952, Boshoff et al. 1990). In the Embu region of Kenya and on farmland in central Namibia, Martial Eagles have preyed on livestock and poultry resulting in anthropogenic persecution (Brown 1952, 1991, Simmons and Christopher 2004).


Monitor Lizard

White-bellied Bustard

Yellow-necked Spurfowl

Home Range

The only home range study on Martial Eagles utilizing transmitters was conducted by Carter Ong from 1997-1999 in the Athi region of central Kenya. Ong studied two pairs of Martial Eagles that had home ranges of 205km2 and 125km2 respectively (Ong 2000). There is an ongoing study in the Kruger National Park in South Africa that is studying Martial Eagle home range using back pack transmitters (van Eeden pers. comm.).


Unlike many African eagles, Martials have been observed to select nest locations far from human habitation making them especially vulnerable to habitat encroachment (Brown 1952). Martial Eagles have been found to nest primarily in large trees on either rocky hills or in riverine vegetation (Brown 1952, Herholdt and Kemp 1997, Ong 2000). There are typically 2-3 nests within a pairs’ territory (Brown and Amadon 1968) and they have on average a single chick every 2 years (Brown 1952, Herholdt and Kemp 1997).


For more information on Martial Eagles please click on the logo below that will take you to the Global Raptor Information Network species account for Martial Eagle.