The harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) is native to the tropical lowland forests of Central and South America. These massive birds of prey are year-round residents in their territories. Their tropical habitats offer a plethora of fresh food sources.
Mammals are the harpy eagles' primary food source. A variety of monkey species, sloths, opossums, and anteaters are all common prey. The harpy will also occasionally eat other birds and reptiles.
These eagles are skilled and powerful predators. With wingspans that reach up to 6.5 feet and a bodyweight that averages around eleven pounds, these birds are at the top of the rainforest food chain. The harpy eagle has no natural predators and there are few animals it cannot hunt. Read on to discover more about the harpy eagle’s diet and what makes them such skilled predators!
A Harpy Eagle about to eat a rabbit
Rainforests are often teeming with animal life, providing harpy eagles with a varied diet. One of the raptor's most important food sources is the monkey. The harpy has access to several monkey species, including cebid, saki, wooly, howler, and squirrel monkeys.
Sloths are another important food source for this eagle. They eat both two-toed and three-toed sloth species.
The harpy eagle will commonly feast on opossums, porcupines, anteaters, and kinkajous. Snakes, iguanas, and other birds, including parrots, macaws, and red-legged seriema have been killed and eaten by this eagle as well. Less frequently, the harpy will capture terrestrial animals such as domestic pigs, coatimundi, and even young brocket deer.
Close up of a Harpy Eagle
Winter weather has little effect on the tropical dwelling harpy eagle. The raptor still has access to its primary food sources, mainly eating monkeys, sloths, and opossums. They will also eat a variety of other mammals, birds, and reptiles.
Throughout the balmy summer months of Central and South America, the harpy eagle primarily eats tree-dwelling mammals, including various species of monkeys, sloths, and opossums. They will also catch anteaters and porcupines. Occasionally even domestic pigs or brocket deer are on the menu.
Birds are sometimes caught by these eagles as well, including macaws, parrots, and curassows. They will also prey on iguanas, snakes, and other reptiles.
Harpy Eagle in the rainforest
Harpy eagles are diurnal, meaning they are active in the daytime. These raptors find food and hunt typically from a perch high in a tree or the air. Sometimes they will drop below the forest canopy to more easily find prey. The harpy has excellent eyesight and hearing. It uses these senses to help pinpoint a potential kill within the dense rainforest understory.
Harpy eagles are unique for their species in that they have a facial disk similar to owls. Facial disks are simply a circle of feathers formed around a bird's face. These help better direct sound to the bird’s ears and are extremely effective at helping the harpy locate prey that may be difficult to see.
Once the eagle pinpoints its prey, it dives down and snatches the animal with outstretched talons. They can also fly straight upward to attack from below.
Harpy eagles are incredibly powerful raptors. They kill their prey quickly by snatching the animal with their talons and crushing it. A harpy’s talons are generally 3-4 inches long (the same length as grizzly bear claws). They can exert several hundred pounds of pressure upon snatching their prey.
The powerful talons of a Harpy Eagle
Unlike most bird species, harpy eagles do not hunt every day. Because they are capable of killing large prey like monkeys and sloths, even deer, a harpy can feed on the same animal for several days. As with birds that eat carrion, decaying meat is not an issue for this eagle.
The harpy also does not need to eat every day. They may go more than a week without food and be perfectly fine.
Baby harpy eagles begin their lives eating raw meat. Unlike other birds, eagles do not regurgitate food for their young. Instead, the parents tear the meat into pieces small enough for the young to eat. Males provide most of the food during the first couple of weeks.
Harpy Eagle with chick in the nest
Harpy eagles drink water, but not very often. These birds get most of their hydration from the food they eat.
Harpy eagles are true carnivores. These birds exclusively eat meat from mammals, birds, and reptiles. Their main food sources are tree-dwelling mammals, including sloths, monkeys, and opossums.
Harpy Eagle perched
Theoretically, yes, a harpy eagle could kill and eat a human by puncturing the skull with its powerful grasp. However, this is unlikely. The birds can carry around 20 pounds - impressive, but not enough to pick up a human and transport them to a safe place to feed. Humans are not a natural food source, either. Harpy eagles are more likely to prefer keeping their distance.
Harpy eagles do not eat jaguars. These cats are incredibly agile and powerful on their own. It would be difficult for an eagle to get close enough to grasp this cat without the risk of getting injured or killed.
Sloths are an important food source for the harpy eagle. They frequently eat both two-toed and three-toed sloth species.
Harpy Eagle, perched on a tree in Ecuador
There are a few records of harpy eagles eating hummingbirds - this is likely not a regular occurrence, though. Hummingbirds are significantly smaller than the meals these eagles generally go for.
Harpy eagles do eat snakes and other reptiles. However, these animals come second to the larger mammals harpy eagles prefer (sloths, monkeys, and opossums).
Harpy eagles eat several species of monkeys. Along with sloths, monkeys are one of the harpy’s most important food sources.
Harpy eagles eat macaws and other bird species, including parrots and curassows.
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