The Harpy Eagle is one of the most powerful and largest raptors, found throughout the Neotropical realm. Also, known as the Brazilian harpy eagle, or American harpy eagle, the species is monotypic meaning that no sub-species exist. The species has been allotted a “Near Threatened” status by the IUCN, meaning significant steps must be taken to conserve this wonderful bird of prey from extinction.
Brazilian Harpy Eagle, American Harpy Eagle
86.5cm to 107cm
183cm to 224cm
4kg to 9kg
The Harpy Eagle has a large body size coupled with robust tarsi and a strong bill that makes it a fearsome predator. Although both sexes bear similar plumage, the size varies. Females are larger in size than males. A characteristic crest is formed by elongated feathers on the crown and is separated into parts, one on either side of the head. The head and neck are light grey, while the back, rump, and upper surface of the wings are blackish or dark grey.
The grey head is separated from the white belly by a broad black band present across the upper breast. Three ashy grey and broad bands are present on the upper surface of the tail, which is black. The beak is large and curved. As far as bare parts are concerned, black bill, blackish or black cere, yellow toes and tarsi, brown or grey Iris is present.
Harpy Eagle in a Brazilian Zoo, showing under the wings
Overall, the Juvenile has a whitish plumage with grey vermiculations in the whitish upperparts. Greater upper wing coverts have a slight black mottling on their surface. Darker remiges are present that are blackish above, barred and mottled with paler grey. Greyish upper tail surface with 7-8 blackish bars on them. 6-8 narrow blackish bars occur on the whitish under surfaces of the remiges. White underwing coverts and white under surfaces of the remiges occur. The latter has a dark barring which is not as bolder as in adult members.
The chicks are altricial, meaning that they require parental care to survive and grow. The body is covered with dirty white down feathers. After almost 45 days of age, the remiges start to appear in young hatchlings. At the age of 54 days, apparent feathers appear on the back, sides of the head, scapulars, upper wing coverts, and crown of the head. At 77 days, the emergence of the rectrices starts.
A juvenile or young harpy eagle
The Harpy Eagle is one of the largest, heaviest and monstrous birds in the world. Although males are smaller than females, the mensural data is not often reported separately on a sex basis. The body length ranges from 86.5-107 cm, while the wingspan ranges from 183-224 cm. The Harpy eagle falls the 4th place in terms of the largest wingspan among eagles.
The weight of the Harpy eagle varies from male to female. Females being larger, have greater mass than males. The female Harpy eagle weighs about 7,600 - 9,000 grams, while males weigh about 4,000 - 4,800 grams. This means females almost weigh twice that of males. Apart from this, some studies have reported a weight of over 10,000 grams in females.
With its powerful talons and legs, a Harpy eagle can lift huge masses compared to its body weight. The Harpy eagle can lift 9 kgs of weight which is equal to or sometimes greater than its body weight. This means they could technically easily lift a small baby too. These eagles can prey upon sloths, small monkeys, and tree-dwelling vertebrates due to their powerful nature.
Harpy eagles, being one the most powerful eagles in the world, possess the largest talons of any living eagle. These talons are so giant that they can lift prey up to their own weight. The length of the rear talons is about 3-4 inches which is the same as that of grizzly bear claws.
Several pounds of pressure can be exerted by the talons of the harpy eagle, which has the capability of killing prey instantly by crushing bones.
A harpy eagle can chase its prey at a speed of 80 km per hour (50 miles per hour). The flying predator dives down onto the prey and crushes its bones with powerful talons. The wings are short and broad, allowing the harpy to fly in any direction instantly. It usually waits on tree branches and then suddenly attacks its prey in a swift.
Harpia harpyja is the scientific name of Harpy eagle. It belongs to the order Accipitriformes and genus Harpia.
Well! You cannot classify a harpy eagle as exactly friendly. However, the species is not exactly aggressive either. The bird of prey is a wild animal living with its natural instincts. Unless not disturbed, the harpy will not attack you. However, they do not hesitate to attack when it comes to saving their hatchlings. Moreover, they are certainly not considered as good pets either.
Harpy Eagle in Brazil, in the rainforest
A harpy can live for about 25-35 years. They are monogamous, meaning that they mate for life. Moreover, they are top predators meaning that there is practically nothing that eats them. Despite such a significant life span, their numbers are declining. This is primarily because of their breeding behaviour and hunting by humans. The Harpy mother lays one or two eggs every two to three years. At the same time, their natural lifespan is significantly reduced because of hunting by humans who shoot them for sport. These two factors have contributed considerably to their Near Threatened status.
The Harpy eagle falls under the “near threatened” category. Although the species has no natural predators, its numbers are still decreasing. This is primarily because of human intervention such as deforestation and hunting for sport. A pair of harpy requires about 100 km2 of area for its vast habitat. Although some studies suggest less than 50 thousand individuals remaining in the wild, the exact status is unknown. Very little is known about this bird as it is considered rare.
Close up portrait of a Harpy Eagle
The Harpy is at the top of the food chain and is a top predator feeding mainly on medium-sized mammals. However, they do try their luck with others, such as birds and reptiles. They prey on many tree-dwelling mammal species such as the howler, titi, capuchin, woolly, saki, squirrels, two-toed and three-toed sloths, opossum, porcupine, olingo, kinkajou, and more. Similarly, some large birds such as curassows and macaws are also preyed upon by them. Iguanas and snakes include the reptile members that they prey upon.
For a more in-depth guide into the diet of a harpy eagle, check out this article.
Harpy eagles are considered monogamous, meaning that they mate for life. With a life span of about 25-35 years, they actively defend their young and eggs from possible predators. They nest on top of the tree where the mother lays one or two eggs in one clutch. Moreover, they only reproduce every 2-3 years. Incubation of eggs is the responsibility of both parents, with the female taking more responsibility comparatively.
The tallest trees in the forest are a nesting site for the Harpy Eagle. The highest point on the tree trunks is picked up where just the branches spread out. This means they often nest at around 40 meters or 130 feet high. Upon choosing their nest site, they start building the nest. Large nests are made of branches and sticks lined with softer materials. Some of the trees used for nest building include the Brazil nut tree, Cambara tree, or the Kapok tree. The same nest will be reused by the harpy couple over the course of years.
The nest of a harpy eagle with a chick
Harpy eagles lay between one and two eggs in a single clutch, once every two or three years. This is one of the reasons why Harpy is more susceptible to extinction.
The Harpy Eagle eggs are pear-shaped and white in colour. The eggs are laid in a deep and wide nest on top of trees, which are reused over many years. Only one or two eggs are laid per clutch whose mean length is 75 mm and have a width of 57 mm. Only one hatchling is raised per clutch, while the second egg is laid for backup. If both eggs are hatched, one of them is dragged out of the nest.
The Harpy eagle does not usually vocalize away from its nesting site. The male wails with a “wheeeeee…wheeeee…wheeeee” sound when the female partner is incubating eggs in the nest. The female responds to the call in a similar fashion, but the pitch is different. While approaching the nest, the male will scream sharply to let the hatchlings know that their Dad is home. At the same time, nonvocal sounds are not reported.
Harpy Eagle Call
Dušan M. Brinkhuizen, XC384930. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/384930.
Harpy Eagles live in the rainforests of South and Central America. They need a vast area to live in; thus, they prefer extensive uninterrupted forests. Most of the time is spent in the forest canopy, and rarely do they fly in open spaces over the canopy. They make nests and breed in the same canopy on the top of trees.
Harpy Eagle in Ecuador, South America
The uninterrupted and large forests of South and Central America are the habit of Harpy eagles. They can be spotted on the top of the tree canopy and rarely fly over the forest canopy.
Spotting this mighty eagle in its natural habitat becomes very tough because of its habitat in the dense forest canopy. As it rarely flies over the forest roof, the spotting becomes tougher. However, you can see this mighty eagle in several zoos such as San Diego Zoo, Fort Worth Zoo, Oklahoma City Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, and Miami Zoo.
Harpy eagles do not migrate and are resident birds. They have their own territories in a vast expansion of uninterrupted forests, which can go up to 100 Km2. They use this huge area for hunting, as well as breeding.
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