The Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) is a true master of the skies of Masai Mara! Every time i see one (which is a rare sighting…but i have been lucky every trip!), my heart skips a beat…so massive, impressive and handsome this Eagle is! With a wing span of up to 8.5 feet and adults weighing a massive 6.5 kilos, this raptor happens to be the largest Eagle in Africa! Length is between 78-86 cms…compare it with our Changeable Hawk Eagle’s 63-77 cms and you will get an idea of how massive the Martial is! This was my literally my last sighting of this year….as we were waiting to catch our small plane from Mara to Nairobi, this huge Eagle decides to come and soar above the bush air-strip, surveying it’s kingdom! What a way to end my Masai Mara season!!
The Martial Eagle also happens to be the fifth largest Eagle in the World! It’s typical prey is large sized ground birds and small mammals like young Impala and Thompson’s Gazelle. In the Masai Mara, i have almost always seen them with prey of small mammals…in fact, during one of the trips this year, i narrowly missed a sighting of a life-time (which our second vehicle following us barely 5 minutes behind saw)…of a Martial Eagle hunting an Impala calf!! By the time i could go to the site of the hunt, a massive Martial Eagle was tearing apart and feeding on the ground next to a thick bush…only visible through the binoculars!!
This Eagle in picture had just hunted a Scrub Hare…and was feeding on it perched on a low tree, when we spotted it…just look at it’s massive talons and bill…and of course, it’s piercing yellow eyes! The spots on it’s belly and the dark brown back are diagnostic of an adult bird. Their life span is up to 14 years and birds attain maturity around 6-7 years of age.
A side view of the same bird with it’s kill…Martial Eagles are known to take down adult Duikers weighing about 35 kilos (five times its own body weight!)…heaviest live prey for any raptor in the world! With their keen eye-sight these eagles can spot their prey on the plains, from about 3-5 kms away! Once i saw a Martial high above in the sky riding the air currents so efficiently that it remained stationary at one spot…can you imagine such a massive bird ‘hovering’?! Such is it’s mastery of flight!! The home range for a pair of Martials extends up to 50 sq miles…and sadly, these amazing Eagles are now listed as ‘vulnerable’….
The Martial has a very interesting Latin name….’bellicosus’, which means ‘war-like’ (or fond of war)…and this is the only species in the genus Polemaetus. When you are ever in the Masai Mara…keep scanning the skies…you may be very fortunate enough to lay your eyes on this stunning raptor!!