Martial Eagle
Polemaetus bellicosus
Population size
Life Span
14-25 years
kg lbs 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The Martial eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) is a large eagle native to sub-Saharan Africa. It is one of the most persecuted bird species in the world. Due to its habit of taking livestock and regionally valuable game, local farmers and game wardens frequently seek to eliminate Martial eagles, although the effect of eagles on this prey is almost certainly considerably exaggerated.










Apex predator










Soaring birds






Not a migrant


starts with


Adult Martial eagles are dark brown on the upperparts, head, and upper chest, with an occasional slightly lighter edging to these feathers. The dark feathers can appear grayish, blackish, or even plum-colored depending on lighting conditions. The body underparts are feathered white with sparse but conspicuous blackish-brown spotting. The underwing coverts are dark brown, with the remiges being pale streaked with black, overall imparting the wings of adults a dark look. The underside of the tail has similar barring as the remiges while the upperside is the same uniform brown as the back and upperwing coverts. The eyes of mature Martial eagles are rich yellow, while the cere and large feet pale greenish and the talons black. Martial eagles have a short erectile crest, which is typically neither prominent nor flared and generally appears as an angular back to a seemingly flat head. In flight, martial eagles bear long broad wings with relatively narrow rounded tips that can appear pointed at times depending on how the eagle is holding its wings. Juvenile martial eagles are conspicuously distinct in plumage with a pearly gray colour above with considerable white edging, as well as a speckled grey effect on crown and hind neck. The entire underside is conspicuously white. The wing coverts of juveniles are mottled grey-brown and white, with patterns of bars on primaries and tail that are similar to adult but lighter and greyer. In the fourth or fifth years, a very gradual increase to brownish feather speckling is noted but the back and crown remain a fairly pale grey. At this age, there may be increasing spots on the throat and chest which coalesce into a gorget and some spots on the abdomen may variably manifest as well. The eyes of juveniles are dark brown. This species reaches adult plumage by its seventh year with the transition to adult plumage happening quite rapidly after many years in a little-changing juvenile plumage.




Martial eagles are found in most of sub-Saharan Africa. They prefer to live in open woods and woodland edges, wooded savannah, and thornbush habitats. These eagles also avoid closed-canopy forests and hyper-arid desert. In southern Africa, they have adapted to more open habitats than elsewhere in their range, such as semi-desert and open savanna with scattered trees, and wooded hillocks. In the desert areas of Namibia, they utilize ephemeral rivers. Martial eagles seem to prefer desolate or protected areas.

Martial Eagle habitat map

Climate zones

Martial Eagle habitat map
Martial Eagle
Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

Habits and Lifestyle

Martial eagles are diurnal, often spending a large portion of the day on the wing, and often at a great height. When not breeding, both mature eagles from a breeding pair may be found roosting on their own in some tree up to several miles from their nesting haunt, probably hunting for several days in one area and then moving on to another area. Martial eagles usually hunt in a long, shallow stoop, however, when the quarry is seen in a more enclosed space, they parachute down at a relatively steeper angle. Prey may often be spotted from 3 to 5 km (1.9 to 3.1 mi) away with a record of about 6 km (3.7 mi). On occasion, Martial eagles may still-hunt from a high perch or concealed in vegetation near watering holes. If the initial attempt fails, they may swoop around to attempt again, especially if the intended victim is not dangerous. Martial eagles tend to be very solitary and do not tolerate other eagles in the area outside of the pair during the breeding season. These birds are generally shy and try to avoid humans, but may be seen passing overpopulated country at times. These powerful hunters are relatively quiet birds. When near the nest or excited, they produce 'hlueee-oh' and during display, birds utter a series of 'klee-klee-klee-kloeee-kloeee-kulee'.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Martial eagles are carnivorous opportunistic predators that prey on mammals, birds, and reptiles. They hunt small antelopes, some monkeys, young domestic goats and lambs, water birds such as herons, storks, and geese. At other times, these eagles may prey upon a wide range of potentially dangerous prey, such as monitor lizards, venomous snakes, jackals, and medium-sized wild cats.

Mating Habits

varies with location
45-53 days
1 egg
9-15 months

Martial eagles form monogamous pairs, which stay together for life. The birds don’t have a spectacular display flight. Their display often consists of the adult male or both members of a pair circling and calling over their home range area. During mutual circling, the adult female may turn and present talons. Martial eagles may breed in various months in different parts of their range. In Senegal, the mating season takes place in November-April, January to June in Sudan, August to July in northeast Africa, and almost any month in east Africa and southern Africa, though mostly in April-November. Pairs build their nests in large trees and usually place them in the main fork of the tree at 6-20 m (20-66 ft) off the ground. Females usually lay one egg (rarely two) every two years. The egg is incubated for 45 to 53 days mainly by the female. The newly hatched chicks are usually quite weak and feeble, becoming more active only after they are 20 days old. The chicks usually first feed themselves at 9 to 11 weeks old and fledge at 96 to 109 days. They may remain in the care of their parents for a further 6 to 12 months and will reach reproductive maturity at 4 to 5 years of age.


Population threats

The main threats to Martial eagles include hunting and habitat loss. Farmers kill the birds because they hunt domestic animals. Viewed by farmers as a threat to livestock, eagles are often poisoned and shot. Other threats come from powerline collisions and habitat destruction. The eagle’s low reproductive rate is also a problem for its long-term survival.

Population number

According to the Africa Geographic resource, the total population size of the Martial eagle is approximately 30,000 individuals. According to the IUCN Red List, the population of this species in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland are around 800 pairs and the population in Namibia includes less than 350 pairs. Currently, Martial eagles are classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Martial eagles are apex predators and are at the top of the avian food chain in their environment. Due to their opportunistic diet, these birds control the population of their prey species.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The local name of Martial eagles in South Africa is lammervanger (or “lamb catcher”).
  • The Martial eagle is one of the world's most powerful avian predators. Due to both its underside spotting and ferocious efficiency as a predator, it is sometimes nicknamed “the leopard of the air”.
  • In its common, scientific, and most regional African names, this species name means “war-like” and indicates the force, brashness, and indefatigable nature of their hunting habits.
  • Martial eagles have a very unique hunting technique in which they hunt primarily from a high soar, by stooping on their quarry.
  • Martial eagles are also one of the strongest eagles in Africa; they are able to knock an adult man off his feet.
  • Martial eagles have very sharp eyesight that is almost four times better than that of a human.
  • Martial eagles build large nests and the construction of new nests can take several months. Most pairs usually use just one nest within many years. One exceptionally prolific pair built or repaired 7 nests during 17 years in Zimbabwe, although they only nested 5 of the 17 years.


1. Martial Eagle on Wikipedia -
2. Martial Eagle on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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