Martial law

[Right now it is hunting season in Maine, and I am not in the woods as much, so today I take you back to Kenya.]

The Martial Eagle, Polemaetus bellicosus, is a majestic bird with a wingspan of up to 2.2m (over 7ft), making it one of the two largest eagles in Africa. It is easy enough to see in Laikipia in Kenya, and yet it is classified as Endangered because it has undergone a rapid decline in the last 30 years, mainly due to habitat loss. They like sparse woodlands and savannah, and avoid settled areas. Each pair has a range of 100-300 so even South Africa’s vast Kruger National Park only contains about 100 pairs.

Let us admire this magnificent bird, and hope that there continue to be places for it to live in our ever more-crowded world.

This is a juvenile, always an encouraging sign:

The adults form monogamous pairs, which stay together for life:

In Kenya they breed at any time, but especially April to November. There may be the start of a nest (or the vestiges of an old one) to the right of this next photo, which was taken in April:

Their diet includes monitor lizards, large birds, and smallish mammals (weighing up to 5Kg, including small antelopes!) Indeed, in South Africa it is called a  lammervanger (or “lamb catcher”). This one is plucking the fur from a freshly caught scrub hare:

After feeding, the crop is prominently enlarged. This is a different bird, on a different day, but it has clearly fed well on something:

One day I watched a martial eagle fighting a black-chested snake eagle, a somewhat smaller bird. Here are three photos, the first showing both birds (martial eagle on right), then the martial eagle, then the snake eagle.

I don’t think either was trying to kill and eat the other; they both typically swoop onto prey on the ground. More likely, a territorial dispute.

PS I like this poem by Zimbabwean poet Terry Dawson about the Martial Eagle, which is known for its avoidance of populated areas:

A Poem for an Eagle

by Terry Dawson

Wildest of all the wild things 
Is the king of the hunting birds. 
Wild-one that to the wilderness clings 
Where the olden ways are preferred. 

When mankind comes and with him brings 
His dogs and flocks and herds, 
A disquiet comes upon this king 
As though misstep’s occurred… 
And at such coming spread his wings 
For wilds undisturbed. 

4 thoughts on “Martial law”

  1. Both are formidable birds. I happen to love seeing feathered-legs. Enlarged crop is interesting…is that because they might have a young one to feed? I wonder why the wing tip feathers are so separated on the martial eagle in the next to last photo? Maybe so that they can glide better on the warm thermal currents? Thanks for taking me to Kenya!


  2. Looking much sleeker than our Baldies, partially due to the lack of “underwear”. Great capture of aerial combat, requiring wing tip feather to assist in reeling turns, I suppose.


  3. Magnificence, and such beauty. It always breaks my heart to think of our planet’s losses. Perhaps one day it will all turn itself around but only if we can change our ways in time.


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