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Flying at 160 km per hour – Bird or Aircraft?

Who would have thought a martial eagle could achieve that? A year ago Stratton introduced our readers to the Martial Eagle research project and in this post he shares some fascinating insights into the secret world of these majestic raptors
Above: A female Martial Eagle eyes out potential prey

On January 30th 2017, Tyler Davis helped place a solar powered backpack GPS transmitter on an adult female Martial Eagle with Stratton Hatfield and Shiv Kapila from the Maasai Mara Martial Eagle Project. One year later and we are very excited to share with you some of the information we have learned since tagging this incredible bird.

We now know that this female is part of a breeding pair that has an extensive territory along the Mara River. The Martial Eagle research project has cleverly named this pair the “Mara River Pair”. Her mate appears to be an older experienced male. We have no way of ageing Martial Eagles accurately, but his worn feet, cloudy eyes and less feathered face all indicate many years spent soaring over the Maasai Mara. He could easily be over 30 years old.

A martial eagle nest sits securely in the branches of this diospyros tree

This pair nests in in a large diospyros tree on the banks of the Mara River. Their nest is impressive (3 meters deep and 2 meters across) and is one of the largest the project has recorded. With the help of Tyler and with a little imagination you can see the nest through the spotting scope from Angama’s North Camp deck. If you happen to do a balloon ride from Governors, you often float right over it.

The female’s home range is approximately 93 km2. Many of the famous wildebeest river crossings are included in her territory, allowing her a front row seat for the Great Migration every year. In addition to providing information about her whereabouts, the GPS tracker also notes altitude and speed. To date, she has maxed out at 3,850 meters (12,631 feet) above sea level (which is a half mile higher than the plane that takes you from Nairobi to Angama), and 44 meters per second (nearly 100 miles/160 km per hour).

After 50 days of incubation, this fluffy chick cracked it's way out its egg

In April 2017, she laid an egg and faithfully incubated it for around 50 days. In June, the chick hatched, and the research project swiftly placed a camera trap at the nest to record what the pair was feeding their chick. (Whilst climbing the tree to place the camera trap, Simon Thomsett, from the Kenya Bird of Prey Trust, found an active beehive in the branch supporting the nest – good protection). Unfortunately, at 30 days old the chick was taken from the nest by a Verreaux’s Eagle owl.

This female’s diet is incredibly varied: her menu has included Rock Hyrax, Scrub Hare, Banded Mongoose, Black-bellied Bustard, Thomson Gazelle and most recently an enormous Water Monitor.

Our female is still tagged and transmitting data. We are all hopeful that this pair attempts to breed again in 2018.

A varied diet is a testament to this bird's incredible hunting abilities

Notes from the Editor:

Angama Mara is a proud partner of the Maasai Mara Martial Eagle Project. If you would like to go out and see Martial Eagles with the research project, please let our reservations team know prior to your stay and we will do our best to arrange an afternoon out studying and watching these incredible birds with the researchers.

Filed under: The Mara

Tagged with:

Birding , Birds , Eagles , Maasai Mara , Mara Triangle , Martial Eagles

About: Stratton Hatfield

Stratton Hatfield was born in Zimbabwe to American parents. His family currently resides in Kenya, which he is proud to call home. He has a degree from the University of Kentucky in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and is currently pursuing a master’s degree studying Martial Eagle ecology in the Maasai Mara ecosystem.

Browse all articles by Stratton Hatfield Meet the angama team

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17 April 2018

We are one day away from joining you and Randy’s #1 desire is to see Martial Eagles ! You are whetting his appetite!!!!!

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