National bird of Panama, the Harpy eagle is undoubtedly one of the most impressive bird species in South America. However, this intimidating creature is no legend.
Discover the incredible characteristics that have built the reputation of this imposing bird of prey, super-predator of the canopy.
The Harpy eagle: A Canopy-dweller from the Canopy Heights
The Harpy eagle is native to Central and South America: present from Mexico to Argentina, it is more commonly found in Brazil. This impressive bird frequents more precisely the tropical rainforests, in the upper layers of the canopy where it perches on the branches of emerging trees to locate its prey.
One of the largest raptors in America
Measuring one meter in height, and reaching two meters in wingspan, the Harpy eagle is one of the largest species of eagles living on our planet. Recognizable by its grayish head decorated with a ridge of dark feathers, it is the largest and most powerful bird of prey on the American continent. As with many other species of birds of prey, females are larger than males, weighing up to 9 kg. But most impressive in this bird, besides its very thick and hooked beak, are its powerful legs armed with fearsome curved and sharp claws, 12.5 cm long.
The Harpy eagle is a fearsome monkey eater.
A solitary predator, the harpy uses its excellent sight and hearing to locate its prey in the dense vegetation of the canopy where it has no difficulty in moving around despite its stoutness. At this height, it finds arboreal animals such as sloths or many species of primates (such as spider monkeys or saimiris), which are the main sources of food for this carnivorous hunter. Thanks to its powerful legs, it is capable of snatching a 4 kg prey from its branch and transporting it to its nest. But terrestrial species are not spared, as it can very well hunt lizards, rodents and even small deer!
A loyal partner
The Harpy eagle form couples faithful for life, and both male and female participate in the construction of the nest, which is made of branches, vegetation and animal hair. It can take several weeks to build, and the nest can be up to 1.5 meters wide! The female usually lays two eggs in the nest, and stays there to incubate while the male goes in search of food. However, only one egg will reach term. Indeed, when the first egg hatches, the female does not continue to brood. The breeding of their offspring requires a lot of energy, so the couple can only care for one young at a time. The involvement of both parents remains necessary during the first 10 months of the chick’s life. After having become autonomous, this one can remain close to the nest, this is why the couple reproduces only once every 2 to 3 years.
A species of almost threatened bird
Although the range of the Harpy eagle is very wide, its population is constantly decreasing. Having disappeared from many sites, especially from the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest, this species is currently considered near-threatened according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). The main reason for its rarefaction is the destruction of its habitat, caused by human activities such as logging, agriculture or cattle breeding. In Brazil, it is also hunted by cattle breeders who wrongly perceive it as a threat to their livestock. In some regions, its feathers are used to make Native American headdresses and ornaments worn during ceremonies, and its greenhouses are prized by indigenous hunters for use in voodoo cults, as well as by trophy enthusiasts.
To stop this disappearance, several conservation programs have been put in place, aimed at carrying out research or monitoring nesting sites.