harpy eagleScientific Name– Harpia harpyja

Conservation Status– Near Threatened

Appearance

The upper side of the harpy eagle is a dark grey in colour. Their underside is white. Across the breast is a thick black band of feathers that separate the body from the head. On the top of the head is a crown of feathers. This and the head are coloured light grey while the bill is black. Across the legs are a number of thin black bands. Their toes are yellow and the back talons may measure 13cm long (5 inches). The top of the tail is black with three grey bands while the underside is black and features 3 white bands. Both the male and the female are similar in colour.

Female harpy eagles are larger than the males. Females weigh between 6 and 8kg (13-20lb). Males weigh only 4-4.8kg (8.8-10.6lb). In length they measure anywhere from 86.5-107cm (2ft 10in-3ft 6in). Wingspan is from 176-224cm (5ft 9in-7ft 4in). They have smaller wings that allow them to manoeuvre through the trees.

Lifespan                                                                                  

The lifespan of the Harpy eagle is between 25 and 35 years.

Diet

Harpy eagles are carnivores. Up to 23 hours of their day is spent in a tree waiting for a prey item to wander past on the branches below. They eat sloths, monkeys, opposums, macaws, tayras, coatis, agouti, armadillos, kinkajous, agoutis, porcupines, curassows and iguanas. They have excellent eye sight and can spot an animal which is 1 inch long from up to 200m (220 yards) away. They will either dive down onto their prey or may fly straight upwards to capture prey in their large talons. Females will normally take larger animals while males stick to the smaller species.

Habitat

This species comes from South and Central America. Harpy eagles live throughout Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Peru as well as an almost extinct population in Mexico.

The harpy eagle can be found throughout most of the layers of lowland rainforests. Occasionally when on a hunt they will visit forest/ pasture mosaics, cerrados, cattingas, buriti palm stands and cities.

Reproduction

A pair of eagles will mate for life. There is no evidence to show that any form of courtship display is involved in this process. They will make a nest from woven sticks, soft vegetation and animal fur. The most common tree for this to be built in is the kapok. It is seen as bad luck to cut this tree down in some South American cultures offering this bird some protection. Other trees which there nest may be built in include the brazil nut tree and the cambara tree.

harpy eagleHarpy eagles lay two eggs into the nest. While incubating the egg the male goes to get food for the female while she sits on the egg. He will do an occasional shift incubating so the mother can go hunt. After 56 days one egg will hatch and the other will be abandoned. It is only if the first chick dies that the parents may attempt to hatch the second egg. Both parents devote all their time to raising the chick. The newly hatched chick is completely white. It will be three years before it attains adult colouration.

After 6-7 months the chick is fledged and begins to leave the nest and establish its own territory. While they are working on this they will regularly return to the parents to get some food. They will continue doing this till 10 months of age.

At 4-5 years old they will be sexually mature. A lot of the time they return to their original nesting site to breed. 1-2 years after their chick fledges the parents will have another.

Behaviour

Harpy eagles rarely vocalise. When they do they can emit wails, croaks, whistles, mews and clicks.

The only predator that affects harpy eagles is their own species who can occasionally steal each other’s chicks. Nothing else preys upon them meaning they are the apex predator for their area.

This species has been recorded reaching speeds up to 80km (50miles) per hour.

Quick facts

Occasionally this species is called the American harpy eagle so as to distinguish it from Papuan eagle which some call the New Guinea harpy eagle or Papuan harpy eagle.

Harpy eagles are the national bird of Panama.

This species is named for the Greek mythological spirit that had the head of a human and the body of an eagle.

Photo Credits:

Top        – By Jonathan Wilkins (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom – By Eric Kilby from USA (Harpy Eagle  Uploaded by snowmanradio) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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