The Martial Eagle  

Grumeti | July 2020

It has been known for years, by some of the staff that live on Sasakwa Hill, that there is a pair of martial eagles that have been nesting below the Sales Pavilion off the northern side of the Farasi Track. We often see the adults, using the winds which blow up the side of the mountain, gaining altitude as they either set off in search of prey or put on a territorial display to advertise this as their home. Their arrival in the skies above us is often greeted with the constant chatter and alarm calls of the resident vervet monkey troop who, if not on the lookout, would very likely have one of Africa’s largest eagles in a steep dive out of the sky and straight towards the branch that the unsuspecting monkey is sitting on.

George and I went to investigate the martial eagle nest earlier this month, as there had been quite a bit of activity in the area of late. Getting into a position to see into the nest with binoculars requires a short scramble down to about midway on the hill. We began our decent and noticed quickly that the male martial eagle was in the area and had landed in a dead tree opposite us on the other side of the valley to cast a wary eye over our movements. We reached a spot that looked right and each settled on a rock and glassed our binoculars over to the tree and into the nest.

The nest is a substantial platform that is used every year and repairs and rebuilds take place two to three weeks before the eggs are laid. The female was in the nest – her head tucked low, her body pressed into the floor of the nest and her bright yellow eyes watching us coldly. She hardly moved, hardly blinked and never took her eyes off us. The reason being that beside her in the nest was a white ball of down feathers, a small smudge of buffy grey on the crown of its head and two very stubby little, undeveloped wings. Our hunch was right, and the next generation of Sasakwa martial eagles had already hatched and its parents were busy trying to satisfy its insatiable hunger.

Given the small size of the chick, that it was mostly white in colour, with a pale grey forehead, we assumed that after an incubation of around 50 days this chick was about two to three weeks old. A further clue to this chick’s age was that the books make reference to the female being very attentive and present at the nest, providing shade, warmth, food and protection around the two to four-week stage of the chick’s development. If we returned just after the four weeks mark we would start to see the first feathers breaking through. At seven weeks most of the down feathers would be covered and by ten weeks the nestling would be completely feathered.

This little chick will very likely be flying within 100 days or so which means midway through October we could see the fledgling flying in the valleys and over the ridges around Farasi. It will most likely remain in the area for up to eight months before venturing further and becoming more independent until at five to seven years of age when it will reach sexual maturity and full adult plumage.

It has a life ahead of it that will take it over the plains, adjacent to the riverbanks of the Grumeti, along the ridges and mountain tops, past guest rooms and anti-poaching observation points and it will hunt bird and beast alike. An impressive bird and well worth the scramble down the side of the mountain to see.