Martial Eagle

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Image:MartialEagle.jpg

Common Name: Martial Eagle
Scientific Name: Polemaetus bellicosus

Size: 31-38 inches (66-102cm); Wingspan: 74-102 inches (188-260 cm)

Habitat: Africa; most of sub-Saharan Africa, wherever food is abundant and the environment favorable. 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.

Status: Vulnerable. Global population: 170,000 adult individuals with a decreasing population trend. 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. 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 utilize 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. 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. The majority of protected areas in Kenya are too small to hold a single pair, 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.

Diet: Mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians, insects and carrion. 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. 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.

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. A behavior unusual for a bird of its size, it may hover while hunting. Birds are typically killed on the ground or in trees.

Nesting: 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.

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. 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 a tree at 6–20 m (20–66 ft) off the ground. Often trees used are on the sides of cliffs, ridges, valley or hilltop, with one nest having been found within a cave. 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.

Cool Facts: 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.

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.


This 3D model is found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume IV: Eagles of the World

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