The harpy eagle dwells deep inside the rainforests of the western hemisphere. The royal crown-like feathers on the harpy eagle’s head and long stunning tails create an unmistakable sight due to its possession of black and white coloured body side feathers.
Thus, making it easy to recognize the harpy eagles in their habitat.
It is currently common in South America occupying a broad range of the territories despite its declining population in numbers.
Harpiaharpyja is the scientific name of the harpy eagle. The American harpy eagle and royal hawk similarly serve as alternate names for this species.
The appearance viewed by explores and biologist of this species, claims the name of an ancient Greek mythological half-human and half‐bird looking creature.
The harpy eagle is the only living lineage of the Harpiafamily, and it is closely associated with the Crested Eagle as well as the Harpy Eagle of New Guinea. It belongs to the same Accipitridae family which further includes hawks, kites, harriers, vultures and other eagles.
Appearance and behaviour
The distinctive colour of harpy eagles that include grey head, white underside, black wings, and breast enables easy recognition.
The legs of the harp eagle have black strips and are largely white. The beak, eyes and talons are also black or reddish while the feet are yellow. The top of the head has long black crown-like feathers that can be raised when it is endangered.
Some scientists speculate that the crown-like feather on its head can also help direct sounds to the ears of the bird.
The harpy eagle is among the world’s largest species of eagle. One harpy eagle can obtain a measurement of up to 40 inches and weigh a medium dog’s size up to 20 pounds. The female harpy eagle weighs bigger than the male, but the physical difference of both sexes is little.
Harpy Eagles have an excellent vision of their prey from a distance and are able to manoeuvre thoroughly with their wings through dense forests.
Their remarkable vision entitles them to see target sat a distance of about 650 feet away from their proximity. They also have good listening ears compare to their poor sense of smell.
Harpy eagles can fly attaining a top speed of approximately 50 mph for a short period. Their long tail feathers have mainly evolved to help them steer and sail around trees and plants.
Adults harpy eagles prefer to hunt by themselves or with a breeding partner. Occasionally, a developing harpy eagle can also help.
They can attack either from above or below and choose to strike quickly before the prey realizes their presence.
A limited range of different vocals and visuals display, including whistles, clicks, and croaks, are used to communicate with other Harpy eagles. Harpy eagles tend to be more vocal around the nest and quiet during the hunting process.
The harpy eagle prefers to live in dense tropical rainforests on the upper canopy layers of the Western Hemisphere.
They go through both open plains areas and sparse forests in search of food, occupying a large extent of the landmass in Mexico and Central America.
Its main range covers nearly all of Brazil and some of the countries around it, such as Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru excluding the mountain regions of the Andes. Harpy eagles are mainly nest-builders using capok or silk-cotton trees.
They build their nest at the height of about 90 – 140 feet above the earth, where the young chicks are safe from almost all potential predators except other birds.
Harpy eagles feed on animals like sloths and monkeys, including capuchins, howler monkeys, and spider monkeys.
This is because these animals are easily detected, but other animals that include rodents, lizard, young deer and other birds serve as supplementary.
This species of bird captures and kills its prey using it’s long and sharp claws, by mounting strong pressure on its victim.
The harpy eagle is capable of hijacking it’s prey weighing up to 17 pounds from the ground level to the sky with a solo diving action. Harpy eagles are patient hunters as they can stay in a particular location or place for hours in search of food.
It can feast on its prey remains for days when it makes a kill and lasts for weeks without the need to feed.
Predators and threats
A full-grown harpy eagle is the highest predator with less threat in the wild, but younger chicks are totally vulnerable, which makes them prey to other birds and predators.
In order for the chicks to be insured from predators, one of the parents must remain with the chicks and stay extraordinarily vigilant to defend its home at all time. Amongst the defence mechanism adopted by the bird against predators from its young ones is the placement of their homes at a tremendous height.
The biggest threat to the existence of harpy eagles is the destruction of the tropical rainforest environment. The eagle is vulnerable to habitat loss and could also fall victim to local farmers and hunters as pets.
Reproduction and lifespan
Harpy eagles are long-life bond monogamous species that choose their mates. They display high intimate affection through chirping at each other or rubbing each other’s bill together.
These couples share strong bonds and most time also share or split marital obligations to their pair. They also build a nest together using animals fur, sticks, vegetables and many more to construct a home of about 5feets in diameter, which is an important task.
During the rainy season around April and May, their mating season begins. The pair mate several times in a few days, and after this, the female eagle begins to lay eggs usually two eggs at a time but raise one chick.
It takes two months to incubate an egg fully. When two eggs hatch, the parents would leave the chicks to starve to death, giving a chance for the next hatched chick to survive.
The female does most of the incubation, while the male goes in search of foods similar to the barn owl. The female eagle lays eggs once in every two or three years.
The chick is white when born, but after the range of six to seven months, it becomes ledge fully and begins to develop feathers.
The chick becomes a mature eagle in three years, and after four or five years they become independent, staying within the area of their birth. A harpy eagle can live for about 25 –35 years anywhere in the wild.
The IUCN is responsible for ranking many of the species on the planet. Currently, the IUCN listed the harpy eagle as practically threatened. Although the population estimates are not reliably determined in most of Central America and appear to be declining.
Inland and further away from Brazil, the species remains more resilient but less widespread along the coastlines. One study shows that less than 50,000 stay in the wild.
The continuing decline and loss of the Brazilian Amazon for human development could place further pressure on the species. The species may have lost up to half its natural habitat within 50 years.
Experts are also worried that the Amazon loss can be permanent at some point and give the tremendous efforts needed to raise a single chick; it can be slow to recover once they begin to decrease again.
Many conservation groups like the Peregrine Fund are conducting efforts to avoid further population declines and return the species to its former habitat.
However, local governments must step up to protect the remaining rainforest habitat from further degradation in order to boost harpy eagle’s numbers. It is also important to restore what has already been lost.
Facts about eagles
- Harpy eagle was named after a half-human and half-bird creature from Greek mythology.
- The harpy eagle is a significant cultural emblem of some Latin American countries. It was also approved as Panama’s national bird.
- The harpy eagle claws are bigger than any species of eagle. It is approximately 3 – 4 inches long (roughly the same size as grizzle paws). This allows large prey to be pulled from the ground level completely.
- When challenged, it can manually lift its iconic federal crown.
- The Harpy Eagle has excellent visual senses which makes the bird capable of finding it’s prey about hundreds of meters away.