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Birds of Prey: The Martial Eagle

Updated on August 28, 2017
The majestic Martial Eagle
The majestic Martial Eagle | Source

Africa is home to some of the most stunning birds of prey found anywhere and the most magnificent of them is undoubtedly the Martial Eagle. The Martial Eagle is the largest of Africa’s eagles and is the fifth largest eagle worldwide based on average weight and average wingspan. Found only in sub-Saharan Africa, this beautiful crested eagle is very identifiable due to it size and plumage.


The Martial Eagle measures anywhere from 30 to 38 inches in length, which is slightly less than other large eagles such as the Philippine Eagle, the Harpy Eagle, and the Steller’s Sea Eagle. It’s weight, however, is where the Marital more than holds its own as it can weigh in anywhere from 7 pounds up to a hefty 14 pounds. With an average weight of approximately 10 pounds the Martial is only out-weighed by four other eagle species worldwide.

The Martial Eagle
The Martial Eagle | Source

As with other eagles and birds of prey the female is larger than the male and also is more spotted on its chest and under parts. The Marital Eagle has a very impressive wingspan which can reach anywhere from about six feet up to an astounding eight and a half feet for the largest females.

The plumage of the Martial is very distinct, especially in adults, and consists of a dark brown color covering its head, upper chest, shoulders and back. Its under parts are white with dark spotting and its under wing area is a lighter brown. Their legs are white and as one would suspect they have large, powerful talons. Their short crest is rarely exposed except when in a heightened state of alertness and they have a short, barred tail. The beak of the Marital is dark and they have bright yellow eyes.

Young Martial Eagles are not as dark as adults and the coloration on the young eagles head and chest is often more whitish. It takes seven years for the Martial Eagle to reach its adult plumage.

A young Martial Eagle.  His plumage is not yet fully developed.
A young Martial Eagle. His plumage is not yet fully developed. | Source

Habitat and Range

Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the Martial Eagle favors areas of open woodlands and wooded savanna. They avoid dense tropical forests but need trees from which to nest. They can also be found in semi-desert regions and thorn bush habitats and appear to be more abundant in protected regions such as the National Parks of southern Africa.

The range of the Martial can be up to fifty square miles for a pair and they move about their range depending on food availability. The Martial does not migrate but will move locally up to several hundred miles. As a general rule they prefer to avoid contact with humans and prefer desolate areas.

Range of the Martial Eagle
Range of the Martial Eagle | Source
A young Martial Eagle
A young Martial Eagle | Source


The Martial Eagle is at the top of the avian food chain in Africa and as such has no natural predators. Their diet can vary greatly depending on food availability but their preference is game birds.

There are a number of ground dwelling birds that the Martial will hunt including bustards, francolins and guineafowl. They will also prey on storks, small ostrich and waterfowl. In some regions of Africa the Martial Eagles diet will incorporate more mammals and these can include squirrels, hares, mongoose, jackals, and young serval cats. Reptiles are also a part of their diet and include snakes and lizards. As you can see the Marital Eagle has a varied diet and will prey on almost anything given the opportunity and availability.

Because the Martial Eagle hunts by eyesight, they will wait until the sun rises before leaving their nest or roosting spot. As they spend much of their day on the wing they will generally hunt while in flight although they will occasionally hunt from a perch. With its excellent eyesight they can spot prey from up to five kilometers away. The Martial will circle high above its territory riding the warm rising thermals and upon spotting a potential victim will stoop sharply to catch their prey by surprise.

The Martial Eagle
The Martial Eagle | Source


Like other species of eagle the Martial Eagle is monogamous and mates for life. There is no set breeding period for the Martial Eagle and it depends on their location as to when they will breed. In the Sudan the mating season is in January to June while in Senegal it is from November to April. In other parts of Africa the breeding season can be almost any month but the most common time of year seems to be April to July.

The nest of the Martial Eagle is usually built in large trees at a height of anywhere from twenty to eighty feet above the ground. The nest is made of sticks lined with green foliage, and after regular use for a number of years can become quite large, measuring up to six feet in depth and diameter.

Martial Eagle in its nest
Martial Eagle in its nest | Source

The Martial Eagle has a very slow breeding rate and will produce just one egg, very rarely two, every two years. The female does much of the incubation and will only leave the nest to feed. The incubation period is about 45 days and the newborn eaglet will become active after twenty days or so. It will take up to ten weeks for the young eagle plumage to grow and the first flight takes place at about 100 days. The young eagle will remain in the care of its parents as it takes to flight and learns to hunt, and will remain somewhat attached to the nesting site for up to six months. Eventually the young eagle will leave to establish a territory of its own.

Martial Eagle
Martial Eagle | Source

Interesting Facts

  • The Martial eagle is one of the strongest eagles in Africa and can reportedly knock an adult man off his feet.
  • This eagle has enough power in its talons to break the arm of a man.
  • The Martial Eagle has an average lifespan of about 16 years in the wild. Their maximum lifespan is estimated to be about 30 years.
  • They spend much of their day soaring at such high heights that they are barely visible, even with binoculars.
  • They are strong enough to hunt small impala and gazelles although it is rare to take on mammals of this size.
  • The Martial Eagle is the only member of the genus Polemaetus.
  • They have excellent eyesight that is three to four times that of a human.
  • The Martial Eagle will bathe daily in order to keep it feathers clean.


The estimated population of the Martial Eagle is about 30,000 although it is difficult to ascertain given the eagles shy nature and avoidance of humans. It is currently listed as Near Threatened due to a major decline in their numbers over the last few years. As with most of these apex birds of prey their greatest threat comes from habitat loss and humans. Viewed by farmers as a threat to their livestock the Martial Eagle has been poisoned and shot. Most of this persecution is unfounded as domestic animals make up a very small part of the eagles diet. Other threats come from power line collisions and habitat destruction. The eagle’s low reproductive rate is also a problem for its long-term survival.

The future success of the Martial Eagle will depend in large part on the education of African farmers to understand that the Martial Eagle is an integral part of a healthy environment. This along with an increase in protected areas so they can hunt and nest will greatly increase the chances of their long-term survival.

Martial Eagle
Martial Eagle | Source

The Marital Eagle - Poetry in Motion

© 2012 Bill De Giulio


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    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 2 years ago from Massachusetts

      Thanks Alun. For a while I was doing a new Bird of Prey each month. I sort of let it about a year ago but have been thinking of starting again. Lately the problem has been time. I must say that these large eagles fascinate me. I have seen a few here in the states but would love to see first hand some of these lesser known, but equally impressive birds of prey. Thanks again, have a great weekend.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 2 years ago from Essex, UK

      Good hub as ever Bill, and particularly to see one of the less familiar (to Europeans and Americans) birds of prey featured. I've been to sub-Saharan Africa a couple of times but never seen any of these truly large eagles. They must make for a great sight close to. Well presented with good photos too. Alun

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi again Nick. Glad you're enjoying these amazing birds of prey. I do have an article on the Verreaux's Eagle, also known as the Black Eagle.

    • profile image

      nick 4 years ago

      Hi Bill!

      I love to see these birds in flesh. Hope to see more of your blogs about african i wish to see your piece about black eagles of africa. Thanks

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Sheila. Thanks so much for the nice comments. Absolutely you can share this on your blog. Many thanks as always.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      You know I always love reading these hub of yours! You do such a good job! What a magnificent bird. I love wildlife of just about any type. (Not crazy about spiders or snakes.) I always enjoy your birds of prey hubs! Would you mind if I shared this on my wildlife blog? It would be a wonderful addition! :)

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Peggy. I really hope they make it also. What a tragedy it would be to lose this amazing creature. Thank you for stopping by, have a great day.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Hi Bill,

      What an interesting article about the Martial Eagle. Considering how they normally avoid human contact, that video at the end is amazing! It truly is poetry in motion seeing them fly. Those elephants with the baby in the beginning of the video were cute. Thanks for this informative hub. Surely hope that these majestic eagles do not become extinct.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Suzie. I really enjoyed researching the Martial Eagle. It's amazing how big some of these eagles are. The one common denominator among them all seems to be that they are all threatened and endangered. What a shame it would be to lose one of these amazing creatures.

      Many thanks for your great support. It is very much appreciated. Have a happy and healthy New year.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Dusty. Thanks for the visit, glad you enjoyed it. Have a happy and healthy New year.

    • Suzie HQ profile image

      Suzanne Ridgeway 5 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Hi Bill,

      Wow, what another amazing eagle in your series. I find these truly interesting and you write in a style which makes it so engaging for the reader. This eagle is quite fascinating, it's size is staggering at near 14 lbs and to think it could knock over a human. It's breeding habit I would see as a major significant reason for it being near extinct considering how they only mate once and produce one offspring.

      Superb work again my friend, votes, shares and pinned!!!!

    • Dusty Snoke profile image

      Dusty Snoke 5 years ago from Chattanooga, TN

      Great hub. Well written and very interesting. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Linda. Glad you enjoyed reading about the Martial Eagle. I said the same thing when researching this amazing eagle.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Eagles are amazing creatures. Fantastic photos and details! I said WOW quite often while reading! :)

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Keala. Thanks for stopping by. There are so many amazing birds that most of us have never seen or heard of. I'm really enjoying researching and writing about these amazing creatures. Have a happy and healthy New Year.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 5 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      I'm like Carol, Bill. I enjoy your reports very much because they afford us a glimpse of beautiful and amazing birds we don't normally see, even on public television. Thank you once again for sharing and for enlightening us on these wonderful avians. Happy New Year to you and yours, sir!

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Carol. I really love discovering these amazing creatures. It is amazing to me how many truly stunning large eagles and other birds of prey are out there. The Martial Eagle really is a beautiful and amazing creature. The one common denominator among all of these birds is that they are all endangered to some degree, which really saddens me. What a shame it would be to lose just one of these birds.

      Many thanks for the visit, vote, pin, etc... Have a happy New year.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      I always find it interesting to learn about the wild birds out soaring in the sky. I know so little..and so I get to live the life of the birds through your words. As always fascinating..and you are so knowledgeable. Thanks for this and voting up and pinning.