Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja)
The harpy eagle is a very large bird of prey with a body length of 35 to 41 inches, a 6 1/2 foot wingspan and can weigh between 10 to 20 pounds. As with most birds of prey, the female is much larger, sometimes twice as heavy as the male.
The name of this bird comes from the Greek myth of the harpies, wind spirits who took the dead to Hades. The Harpies had the face of a woman and the body of a vulture or eagle.
The upperside of a harpy eagle is slate-gray, with white underparts. The chest is crossed with a black band that reaches the neck. The head is dark gray with a double crest that can be raised or lowered at will.
The feet of a harpy eagle are as large as an adult human hand, and the talons reach lengths of up to 5 inches. That's the length of a bear claw.
This is the largest raptor of the Americas, and among the largest extant eagle species in the world.
It is the only member of the genus harpia.
The harpy eagle's range covers the tropical lowland rainforests of Central and South America, from southern Mexico to northern Argentina, in the upper canopy layer.
Harpy eagles are active-hunting carnivores, with their diet consisting of tree-dwelling mammals like monkeys, coutis and sloths. They will also occasionally attack other birds like macaws, and will eat snakes, porcupines and iguanas. They can lift more than three-quarters of their body weight.
Harpy eagles build large stick nests high in trees, usually the kapok tree, one of the tallest trees in South America. They lay 2 eggs, but once the first egg is hatched, the other is ignored and does not hatch. It can be aggressive to humans who approach the nest.
In many South American cultures, it is bad luck to cut down a kapok tree, which may aid the conservation efforts of this species.
The harpy eagle is listed as Near-Threatened by the IUCN, and Threatened with Extinction by CITES. The Harpy Eagle is threatened primarily by habitat loss provoked by the expansion of logging, cattle ranching, agriculture and prospecting; secondarily by being hunted as an actual threat to livestock and an imagined one to human life, due to its great size.
- The harpy eagle is the National Bird of Panama and depicted on the Panamanian Coat of Arms.
- Recently, a chick from the all but extinct population in the Brazilian state of Paraná was hatched in captivity at the preserve kept by the Brazilian/Paraguayan state-owned company Itaipu Binacional.
- The feathers on the face may act as a facial disc, similar to those in owls, to help the eagle detect prey.
- The San Diego Zoo is the only zoo in the United States to breed harpy eagles.
- If you want a chilling account of a face-to-face meeting with a harpy eagle, go to Julie Zickefoose's post here.
- If I am ever blessed enough to actually see one (either in the wild or in captivity), those of you with me will witness me peeing my pants, crying and fainting. All at once.