This species has been uplisted to Vulnerable because it is suspected to have undergone rapid declines during the past three generations (56 years) owing to deliberate and incidental poisoning, habitat loss, reduction in available prey, pollution and collisions with power lines. Further information on trends across its large range may lead to its further uplisting to Endangered in the future.
Distribution and populationPolemaetus bellicosus
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
has an extensive range across much of sub-Saharan Africa, from Senegal
and the Gambia
east to Ethiopia
and north-west Somalia
and south to Namibia
and South Africa
. It is generally scarce to uncommon or rare, but is reasonably common in some areas (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001). It is suspected to have undergone declines in much of its range, including West Africa (Thiollay 2006, H. Rainey in litt.
2013), Namibia (C. Brown in litt.
(P. Hall in litt.
(S. Thomsett in litt.
2013) and South Africa (R. van Eeden in litt.
2013). Population justification
The global population has not been quantified, but was estimated as probably 'in tens of thousands' by Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001), while the South African population was believed to be no larger than 600 pairs (Barnes 2000).Trend justification
Declines have taken place across much of this species's range owing to habitat loss, deliberate and incidental poisoning, collisions with power lines, and pollution. Comparison of South African Bird Atlas Project data from 1987-1993 and 2007-2012 suggests that the species underwent declines of nearly 60% in 20 years; the rate of decline in protected areas was 42% over this period, including declines of 54% in Kruger National Park and 45% in the Kalahari National Park (D. Cloete per R. van Eeden in litt.
2013). Rapid declines have almost certainly taken place in Kenya, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, and road counts in Tsavo National Park since the 1970s indicate a 50% decline, although the data have not yet been analysed (S. Thomsett in litt.
2013). The overall rate of decline is difficult to quantify but is suspected to have been rapid or possibly even very rapid over the past three generations (56 years). It is consequently placed in the band 30-49%, but better data may show that declines are even more severe.Ecology
It inhabits open woodland, wooded savanna, bushy grassland, thornbush and, in southern Africa, more open country and even subdesert, from sea level to 3,000 m but mainly below 1,500 m (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001). The main prey is sizeable mammals, birds and reptiles (Ferguson-Lees & Christie 2001)
The species suffers from direct persecution (shooting and trapping) by farmers, indirect poisoning (these two threats by far the most important causes of losses), drowning in sheer-walled reservoirs, electrocution on power lines, and habitat alteration and degradation (Global Raptor Information Network 2009). Poisoning is largely carried out by a few large-scale commercial farmers, but is also a problem in tribal small-stock farming communities. Deforestation may be having less of an impact on this species than on other large eagles as it can utilise man-made structures for nesting. Large mammal populations in West Africa are highly threatened and the threats are likely to increase in the future as human populations continue to grow. (H. Rainey in litt.
2013). Reduction in natural prey may lead to an increase in predation on domestic animals which may in turn lead to increased persecution by farmers. In some areas birds may be taken for use in traditional medicine, and parts have been found in muthi markets in Johannesburg (R. Coetzee in litt.
2013). The majority of protected areas in Kenya are too small to hold a single pair (S. Thomsett in litt.
2013), and the size of territory means that birds nesting in protected areas will generally forage far outside them, making them more vulnerable to persecution. In South Africa the highest declines were observed in areas with the greatest increase in temperature and areas with high densities of power lines, probably due to collisions and electrocutions. In Kruger National Park, higher densities of elephants were related to larger declines in Martial Eagles, probably as a result of a reduction in nesting sites or changes in habitat quality (R. van Eeden in litt.
2013).Conservation Actions Underway
A system to compensate farmers for stock losses has been initiated in South Africa. Conservation Actions Proposed
Introduce programmes combining awareness campaigns and compensation to farmers for stock losses across the species's range. Install anti-electrocution devices on electricity pylons. Implement education and awareness campaigns across its range to reduce the use of poisoned baits. Carry out regular population monitoring across its range.
Related state of the world's birds case studies
Barnes, K. N. 2000. The Eskom Red Data Book of birds of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.
Ferguson-Lees, J.; Christie, D. A. 2001. Raptors of the world. Christopher Helm, London.
Global Raptor Information Network. 2009. Species account: Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus. Available at: #http://www.globalraptors.org/grin/SpeciesResults.asp?specID=8313#.
Thiollay, J.-M. 2006. The decline of raptors in West Africa: long-term assessment and the role of protected areas. Ibis 148: 240-254.
Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species
Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection
Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Harding, M. & Symes, A.
Ajama, A., Baker, N., Brewster, C., Brown, C., Daniel, O., Hall, P., Tyler, S., Coetzee, R., van Eeden, R., Rainey, H. & Thomsett, S.
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Polemaetus bellicosus. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 28/10/2016.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 28/10/2016.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000)
Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004)
Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife
To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.
Additional resources for this species