The Martial Eagle
The martial eagle is the kind of bird that casts a shadow over the sun as it sweeps over the savannah, held aloft by a wingspan of over 6ft. It is a sizeable bird, measuring up to 96 cm with a maximum weight of about 6 kg – which puts it in the top-five heaviest eagles on earth and makes it the largest among its African peers.
Its proverbial 'eagle eyes' (3.0–3.6 times human acuity) are able to spot a likely meal from as much as 5 kilometres away as it circles overhead, before swooping down to snatch its victim in powerful talons and deliver the coup de grace with its viciously curving beak. Typically, prey is taken to a perch before being killed, but these birds have been known to slaughter other birds in flight on occasion.
Studies show that the diet of martial eagles in the Kruger Park consists mainly of game birds and Egyptian geese, with monitor lizards and snakes such as Cape Cobras, boomslangs, puff adders, mambas and pythons in second place. The ability to take down these big names in the reptile kingdom gives some indication of the power, stealth and speed of these apex predators. It is thought that they have enough strength in one of their feet to break a man's arm…
Contrary to popular belief, livestock such as lambs, kids and poultry hardly ever feature in the diet of these large birds, these incidences are based more on broken bush telegraph reporting than on actual fact. The presence of martial eagles near agricultural land is in fact a credit to the farmer's land-management policies, indicating a healthy environment.
Martial eagles are not partial to man or mammals in general, the same survey reveals that small mammals make up only 17% of their diet.
Thankfully, they will avoid human settlements as far as possible since poisoning, hunting and collisions with power lines pose a major threat to this species, which has no natural predators.
Naturally scarce due to their large ranges, solitary natures and avoidance of man, it is a rare privilege to see one of these magnificent creatures in the wild.