home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Polemaetus bellicosus (Martial eagle) 

BreŽkoparend [Afrikaans]; Ukhozi (generic term for eagle) [Xhosa]; isiHuhwa (also applied to African crowned eagle), uKhozi [Zulu]; Ngongo gepampa [Kwangali]; Gondo (generic name for eagle) [Shona]; Lusotilolukhulu [Swazi]; Rikhozi (generic term for some raptors) [Tsonga]; Ntsu, Ntswi (generic terms for eagles) [Tswana]; Vechtarend [Dutch]; Aigle martial [French]; Kampfadler [German]; Ńguia-marcial [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Falconiformes > Family: Accipitridae

Polemaetus bellicosus (Martial eagle) 
Martial eagle. [photo Lorinda Steenkamp ©]
Polemaetus bellicosus (Martial eagle)  Polemaetus bellicosus (Martial eagle) 
Immature Martial eagle. [photo Callie de Wet ©] Martial eagle [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Distribution and habitat

Occupies much of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the lowland of West Africa and the DRC. In southern Africa, it is widespread but uncommon, generally preferring flat, open woodland, such as savanna, forest edges and drainage woodland in shrubland. It may move into open farmland with stands of trees.

Distribution of Martial eagle in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Mainly resident, although immature birds may wander great distances.


It eats a variety of animals, especially birds, mammals and reptiles; the relative proportion of these animals in it's diet varies greatly in different areas. It does most of its hunting aerially, soaring high in the air so that it can spot prey up to 6 km away. Once it finds something, it descends in a long swoop, dropping to the ground with wings and tail spread (as in the photo above) and striking the prey. Small animals are usually killed by the impact, but larger prey may have to be strangled to finish them off. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

Polemaetus bellicosus (Martial eagle)   

Martial eagle with dead guineafowl, Kurger National Park, South Africa. [photo Arno Meintjes ©]s



  • Monogamous, territorial solitary nester, with a pair bond that often lasts several breeding seasons.
  • The female builds the nest (see image below) over a period of 2-3 weeks. It consists of a large platform of sticks, with a central cup lined with leaves, which is usually about 1.5-2.0 metres wide and 0.5 metres deep, but if used many times it can be even deeper. It is typically placed in a large, forked branch below the canopy of a large tree, especially Knob thorn (Acacia nigrescens) and Camel thorn (Acacia erioloba); it also nests in high-tension pylon.
Polemaetus bellicosus (Martial eagle) 

Martial eagle at its nest, Bela Bela, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is from February-August, peaking from April-June.
  • It almost invariably lays a single egg, which is mainly incubated by the female for about 48-53 days.
  • The chick is brooded almost constantly by the female for 2-3 weeks, after which she starts to assist the male with hunting to provide for their young. The chick typically leaves the nest at about 90-109 days old, although male chicks may leave earlier. The fledgling continues to roost in the nest for another 3-8 months, still provided with food from the female; the fledgling leaves it's parents' territory at the start of the following breeding season.


Not threatened globally, but Vulnerable in South Africa and Endangered in Namibia, largely due to persecution on farmlands.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.