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Martial Eagle
Polemaetus bellicosus

Status: Near Threatened

Population Trend: Declining.

Other Names: Martial Hawk-eagle.

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Polemaetus bellicosus
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Distribution: Afrotropical. SENEGAMBIA east to ETHIOPIA and south to SOUTH AFRICA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic.

Taxonomy: Placed in the genus Hieraaetus by Amadon (1982) and Amadon and Bull (1988), based on osteological characters. Based on an analysis of the molecular sequences of one mitochondrial and three nuclear loci, Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2004) and Helbig et al. (2005) concluded that Polemaetus is a sister species to an Old World clade consisting of Aquila, Hieraaetus, and Lophoaetus). However, the molecular study of Lerner and Mindell (2005), based on molecular sequences of two mitochondrial genes and one nuclear intron, did not reveal a close relationship of the Martial Eagle to any other raptor genus, and they found it to be genetically distant from other extant "booted" eagles.

Movements: Breeding adults are thought to be sedentary, but may range over wider areas during the non-breeding season (Steyn 1982). Juveniles disperse widely from breeding areas (Brown et al. 1982, Bildstein 2006). There have been 13 recoveries of 212 birds ringed in southern Africa (Oatley et al. 1998). more....

Habitat and Habits: Prefers open grassland with large trees, scrubby karoo areas, and wooded savannas, or riparian forests in arid areas (Simmons and Brown 2004), where it spends most of its time perched on the tops of trees. The construction of power pylons have endabled the spread of this eagle into some treeless areas (Verdoorn and Roth 2000). Usually occurs in singles or pairs and often soars at a great height (Steyn 1982). more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds mainly on medium-sized mammals (especially dikdiks, hares, and hyraxes) and birds (especially bustards), but also a smaller number of livestock, mostly lambs and kids, most of which are scavenged (Simmons and Brown 2004). Hunts by soaring and hovering overhead and strikes prey after a stoop. more....

Breeding: Builds a large stick nest placed in the fork of a large tree, on a cliff, or, in some areas, on power poles and pylons (Boshoff 1993, Simmons and Brown 2004). Females breed for the first time at the age of four. The usual clutch is a single egg, but sometimes two are laid. Within the Kalahari-Gemsbok National Park, a total of 60% of the population attempted to breed each year and, on average, produced 0.43 young/pair/year (Herholdt and Kemp 1997). more....

Conservation: Widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, but occurs in low densities and has suffered major declines in some areas, especially in southern and West Africa. It is now believed to be extinct in the latter region, except in national parks (Thiollay 2006). In southern Africa, there are multiple threats to this eagle, including habitat loss from the cutting of large trees and conversion of lands to agriculture, hunting, nest disturbance, poisoning (both deliberate and secondary), electrocution on power poles, collisions with powerlines, drowning in sheer-walled reservoirs, killing for use in tribal medicine, and a reduction in the food supply (Verdoorn and Roth 2000, Simmons 2005). It is regarded as Threatened, Vulnerable or even Endangered on a country-by-country basis throughout most of southern and eastern Africa and was recently upgraded from Least Concern to Near Threatened by BirdLife International. more....

Population Estimates: Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) estimated the global population, including adult and immatures at the start of the breeding season, at 10,000 to 100,000 individuals, commenting that a population in the tens of thousands seems possible, given the vast range of the species. However, BirdLife International (2009) estimated that only 30,000 mature individuals remain by now, while noting that the supporting data for this estimate are poor. more....

Important References: 
Barnes, K.N. 2000. Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus. Pp. 83-85 in K.N.
  Barnes (ed.), The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and
  Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Boshoff, A.F. 1997. Martial Eagle. Pp. 192-193 in J.A. Harrison et al.
  (eds.), The atlas of South African birds. Volume 1: Non-passerines. BirdLife
  South Africa and Avian Demography Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Kemp, A.C. 1994. Martial Eagle. Pp. 200-201 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott,
  and J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World
  vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Sites of Interest:
Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology
Conducts a project examining the relationship between range management methodology and breeding population density and success of Martial Eagles.
Martial Eagle photos.

Deacon, Neil
Hancock, Pete
Jais, Markus
Jenkins, Andrew
Middleton, Angus
Obodi, Veryl Achieng
Steyn, Peter

Last modified: 5/8/2010

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2021. Species account: Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 26 Jul. 2021

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