Hey guys! Once again I have chosen a horrible pun to title my post, but I really encourage you to get over my poor taste in humour and read what I have to say about a truly fantastic bird; the harpy eagle.
The harpy eagle is a truly incredible bird and is one of the largest species of eagle on Earth. Early South American explorers were so terrified of these legendary birds that they named them after harpies. Harpies, from Greek and Roman mythology, are horrific monsters that are half bird and half woman and are truly vicious. The harpy eagle is also the national bird of Panama.
Like most eagle species, the female harpy eagle is almost twice the size of the male. This eagle’s legs can be as thick as a small child’s wrist, and its curved, back talons are huge! Take a look at them compared to other birds of prey.
Now here’s where it gets really terrifying. See the size comparison of the harpy eagle talon and a grizzly bear claw.
That’s right, harpy eagle talons match up to grizzly bear claws! Their talons are as long as 3-4 inches, which I think is very impressive.
The harpy eagle’s range spreads from Mexico to northern Argentina and they live in forested areas. Their wingspan can reach up to 6.5 ft across. Despite this fact, harpies fly through their forest homes with great agility and ease. For nesting purposes, harpy eagles favour silk-cotton trees (kapok trees) and usually build their nest 90-140 ft above the ground. Harpies use large sticks to create the nest’s huge frame and then they line it with softer greens, seed pods and even animal fur to make it nice and warm and comfortable. A harpy nest usually measures about 4 ft thick and 5 ft across, which is large enough for a person to lie down in! Once built, an eagle pair may constantly reuse and remodel the same nest for many years. Here is an example of such a nest.
The powerful harpy eagle, when it hunts, flies below the forest canopy and uses its massive talons to snatch up monkeys and sloths that can weigh up to 17 Ibs! As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the harpy is also capable, in a serious chase, of reaching speeds up to 50 mph. It dives down onto its prey and snatches it with outstretched feet, where it then uses its deadly talons, which can exert several hundred Ibs of pressure (over 50 kg), crushing the bones of the prey and instantly killing its victim. Harpy eagles have a ranged diet and feeds on not just monkeys and sloths, but also on opossums, porcupines, young deer, snakes and iguanas. Heavier prey, since it can’t be be lifted up to the nest due to its weight, is taken to a stump or low branch where it is partially eaten, after which it will be carried up to the nest for young harpies to munch on.
This bird is what opticians strive for. It can see something less than 1 inch in size from 200 m away!
These birds are ranked as ‘Near Threatened’ by the ICUN Red List of threatened species. I know what you are thinking, how can these things possibly be under any threat at all? Simple really, each harpy eagle pair needs several square miles of undisturbed forest to truly thrive and since these eagles are nonmigratory, they hunt their established range continuously. However, years of logging, destruction of nesting sites and poaching have eliminated this bird species from much of its former range and it is now rare in many areas. Unbelievably, their most current threat comes from hunters actually choosing to shoot them for sport! Makes me feel sick! It also doesn’t help that Harpy parents raise, at most, a single eaglet every two years. This means that once the number of harpy eagles in a particular area has been reduced, it is very hard for the population to recover.
For many years, the San Diego Zoo was the only Zoo in the USA to breed this rare species of eagle, but now Miami Zoo has reared a chick from parents that came from San Diego Zoo. Fifteen chicks have hatched at San Diego Zoo since 1992, and in 1998, two offspring were released into their native habitat of Panama. This is all made possible by The Peregrine Fund. The Peregrine Fund launched the Harpy Eagle Release Project in 1989, which aims to help harpy eagles in the wild and keep them well out of the red area.
Personally, I hope that this scheme will work as not is this magnificent eagle a true natural wonder, but as an apex predator, it plays a key role in the ecosystem of Central and South America and it must be protected.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. If you have any questions about this amazing eagle, I suggest you visit the San Diego Zoo’s website, which tells you all about harpy eagles in extraordinary detail. Please feel free to comment on this post or any of my other posts!