Martial Eagle – Polemaetus bellicosus
As a child, I participated in the Afrikaans version of Boy/Girl Scouts called Voortrekkers. We learned a lot about the history of the Afrikaans settlers and their never-ending fight for space and freedom. The history did not interest me much though, what I was really keen on was the activities that we did. We learned about snakes, birds, stars, plants etc. We also learned how to ride a horse, how to survive in the bush, tying a knot and I think we had to learn how to camp as well. Of course, in order to learn all this, the best way was to go out camping in the bush and this was the ultimate joy. A weekend of no bathing, parents and home rules (the rules at these camps were ironically much stricter than at home!) For the camp officers to control us best, we were divided into groups and this is where today’s bird come in. I was a Breekoparend or a Martial Eagle. We knew everything about these eagles – we chose to be these eagles. Of all the things we could be, this was it. And my fascination with eagles started there and then.
Weighing in at 4kg they are one of the biggest eagles in Namibia – only outweighed by the equally magnificent Verreauxs’ Eagle. The Martial Eagle is about 81cm in length and the male and female look similar although careful studying will reveal that the male is somewhat darker and has more spots than his female counterpart.
I would love to get a photo of one of these eagles, but they are seldom close enough for my standard lens to capture one. Upon studying my Robert’s Bird Guide, I realise why. They are classified as uncommon in Namibia and even more sadly, they are Vulnerable in this region.
They enjoy a rather big variety of food of which small mammals seem to make up the biggest portion. Under these you will find hares, jackal, mongooses and even young baboons. Other birds can also fall prey and these are mostly francolin, guineafowl and ibises. Monitor Lizards are a favorite when hunting among the reptiles.
They are not very vocal birds. In fact, I’ve never heard one.
They are monogamous breeders and will build a large nest placed in a tall tree or on a pylon.