Throughout the world, eagles are the epitome of strength, prowess and majesty, and they have inspired awe throughout human history. Among the world's 60 or so eagle species, the martial eagle of sub-Saharan Africa surely is one of the most awesome.
Weighing up to 14 pounds and with a six- to eight-foot wingspan, the martial eagle is the fifth largest eagle in the world, slightly larger than our own bald eagle, and the largest African eagle. Its scientific name, Polemaetus bellicosus, is rooted in Latin words meaning fierce, war-like and eager to attack. A testament to its ferocity and strength is the fact that a martial eagle is on record as having killed the largest prey of any eagle, an 82-pound antelope.
At the National Aviary, we care for an 18-year-old male martial eagle named Dillon. Hatched in the wild in Tanzania, he was illegally taken into captivity as a chick, later confiscated by the authorities, and then placed in the care of a wildlife rehabilitator. Unable to be released back to the wild, he was eventually acquired by the National Aviary in 2008. Although not on permanent exhibit, Dillon frequently makes an appearance during our daily Skydeck shows.
Like many of the world's eagles, the martial eagle is a species of conservation concern. It is "near threatened" for the all-too-familiar reasons of human persecution and habitat loss. As an apex predator, with no natural enemies, the martial eagle, like our bald eagle, is an indicator species for the environment in which it lives. A healthy widespread population means that there is sufficient prey to support the eagles' survival and reproduction; this means that there is enough quantity and quality of habitat to support the prey upon which eagles depend. For this reason, the recent return of nesting bald eagles to Pittsburgh is a very good sign.
Eagle-lovers are invited to come and celebrate "Eagles of the World" days at the National Aviary July 5-7 for special exhibits, hands-on activities, eagle encounters and a presentation about eagles in Pennsylvania. Information: www.aviary.org.