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Overview

Distribution

Range Description

Harpia harpyja is sparsely distributed and generally rare throughout its extensive range in south Mexico, Guatemala, Belize (recently confirmed [B. W. Miller in litt. 2000]), Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama (including four birds introduced in 1998 [Bell 1998]), Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana (perhaps 200-400 pairs [Thiollay 1985b]), Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and north-east Argentina (Misiones, but formerly Formosa, Salta and Jujuy [Chebez 1994, Chebez et al. 1995, Vargas et al. 2006]). It is thought to be locally or regionally extinct in large parts of its former range, notably most of central and north Central America and possibly Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil (Bierregaard 1994a, Bierregaard et al. 1995), but recent records suggest that the population in the southern Atlantic forests may be migratory (Galetti et al. 1997b).

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Harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja) are distributed throughout Central to South America. They are found from southern Mexico to the eastern part of Bolivia, southern Brazil, and northern Argentina.

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )

  • Beacham, W. 2000. Beacham’s Guide to the Endangered Species of North America. Osprey, FL: Beacham Publishing Corporation.
  • Frost, P. 2007. Birds of Prey. Bath BA1 1HE, UK: Parragon Publishing.
  • Grzimek, B. 2003. Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia. N/A: Gacl.
  • Merrick, P. 2006. Eagles. Mankato, MN: The Childs World.
  • Rettig, N., K. Hayes. 1995. Remote world of the harpy eagle. National Geographic, 187.n2: pp 40- 49.
  • Tingay, R. 2010. The Eagle Watchers: Observing and Conserving Raptors Around the World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
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Range

Forests of Central America to ne Argentina and s Brazil.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Historic Range:
Mexico south to Argentina

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Physical Description

Morphology

Harpy eagles are the largest species of eagle with a body length that can range from 89 to 102 cm and a wing span of 2 m. Their talons can be up to 12.5 cm long. Females are normally larger with an average weight of 7 to 9 kg, while the males weigh an average of 5 to 8 kg. The mantle, scapulars, the top of the secondaries and primaries, secondary coverts, greater primary coverts, and the rump are slate black in color, but can vary to gray. The tail is made up of long gray feathers with horizontal black bars. The breast, belly, and flanks, are light grey with horizontal black stripes. The head, thighs and vent are light gray and the nape has a dark band across it. The crown of harpy eagles consists of long black feathers which raise when threatened, though some theorize they also raise them to direct sound to their ears. Their bills are black and their feet are yellow with black talons.

Range mass: 5 to 9 kg.

Average length: 89 to 109 cm.

Average wingspan: 2 m.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; female larger

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Ecology

Habitat

Talamancan Montane Forests Habitat

This taxon occurs in the Talamancan montane forests, an ecoregion situated along the mountainous spine of the Cordillera Talamanca within Costa Rica and Panama. These forests represent one of Central America’s most intact habitats. The steep slopes, remoteness and relatively cool temperatures have limited the impact of agriculture and human development in most of this area.

This region exhibits considerable floral and faunal species diversity, many of which taxa are endemic. Over 30 percent of the ecoregion's flora, including over 10,000  vascular and 4000 non-vascular plant species, are endemic to this area, as are a number of fauna species. Nearly 75 percent of original forest cover remains intact, with forty percent protected by national and international parks.

The rainfall and temperature in this area of Central America is a direct result of the elevation and orientation north or south side of the mountain range. The average temperature and rainfall for this part of Costa Rica varies from 25°C and 2000 millimetres (mm) at the Caribbean Sea level to –8° C and >6000 mm at the highest peaks including Cerro Chirripo, the highest point in southern Central America at 3820 m. The high humidity and precipitation (which averages between 2500 and 6500 mm annually), steep slopes, and cool temperatures have limited agricultural and urban development, making these highland moist forests one of Central America's most intact ecosystems.

The forest habitats of this ecoregion include Atlantic slope "aseasonal" rainforest, Pacific slope seasonally dry but mostly evergreen forest, and "perpetually dripping cloud forest" on the mountain tops, above approximately 1500 m. The high annual rainfall, wind-blown mist, and frequent presence of clouds, probably the most outstanding characteristic of these montane forests, produce a lush, dense forest with a broken canopy and high species diversity. Abundant epiphytes cover tree branches, and tree ferns are common. Dominant tree groups include the Lauraceae family, especially in the northern section of the ecoregion, and endemic oaks (Quercus spp.), especially in the south. The unique oak forest stands in this ecoregion are characterized by majestic, tall trees (up to 50 m tall), heavily dominated by two species: Quercus costaricensis and Q. copeyensis, while Magnolia, Drymis, and Weinmannia are also important tree elements. The understory is characterized by the presence of several species of dwarf bamboo (Chusquea). Higher peaks and ridges exposed to moisture-laden trade winds support an elfin, or dwarf forest characterized by thick mats of bryophytes covering short, dense gnarled trees.

Seismically induced phenomena, volcanism, and landslides (triggered by torrential rains or earthquakes) are the major natural disturbances influencing the montane forest units within the Talamancan Range. The resulting steep slopes and nutrient-deficient soils insure that this ecoregion harbors some of the most intact in Central America. The La Amistad International Park, one of the largest reserves in Central America, consists of over 400,000 hectares of relatively intact montane forest. These larger blocks of intact forest are essential for preserving remnant populations of harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja) and they protect breeding grounds of threatened and endangered birds endemic to the highland forests of this ecoregion, such as: resplendent quetzal (Pharomacrus mocinno), three-wattled bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata), bare-necked umbrellabird (Cephalopterus glabricollis), and black guan (Chamaepetes unicolor). The first three of these birds migrate seasonally to lower elevations, demonstrating the importance of not only maintaining intact highland habitats but also connecting them to neighboring intact middle and lower elevations. In fact, over 65 (or over ten percent) of the bird species found here migrate altitudinally.

The Atlantic middle elevations also contain some of the most rare species of  butterflies Central America, as well as some of the world's highest butterfly species richness. Populations of crested eagle and painted parakeet were recently discovered in Cerro Hoya on the Azuero Peninsula.

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
It occurs in uninterrupted expanses of lowland tropical forest (typically below 900 m but locally to 2,000 m), but will nest where high-grade forestry has been practised, and use forest patches within a pasture/forest mosaic for hunting (Bierregaard 1994a, Parker et al. 1996). Nests have been reported only 3 km apart in Panama and Guyana (Bierregaard 1994a).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Harpy eagles live in the canopies of tropical lowland rainforests. They prefer undisturbed forests but will also hunt along open patches of land. They generally are found in mid to upper levels of rain forest canopies where they are able to find preferred prey.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: rainforest

  • Fowler, J., J. Cope. 1964. Noted on the Harpy Eagle in New Guiana. The Auk: a Quarterly Journal of Ornithology, 81/3: pg 257-273.
  • Trinca, C., S. Ferrari, A. Lees. 2008. Curiosity killed the bird: arbitrary hunting of Harpy Eagles Harpia harpyja on an agricultural frontierin southern Brazilian Amazonia. Cotinga, 30: pg 12-15.
  • de Carvalho, jr., O., M. Galetti. 2000. Sloths in the Diet of a Harpy Eagle Nestling in Eastern Amazon. The Wilson Bulletin, 112/ 4: pg. 535-536.
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Trophic Strategy

Harpy eagles depend on their 5 inch long talons and powerful legs to subdue prey items. They are well-adapted to snatching prey from the canopy and are powerful enough fliers to carry their prey away to a perch to feed. Harpy eagles' main food sources are sloths and primates, but have also been known to prey upon lizards, birds, small rodents, and sometimes small deer.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)

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Associations

Harpy eagles are apex predators of their rainforest ecosystems. Like most predators, they aid in keeping prey populations in check. They have an important role in controlling mesopredators such as capuchin monkeys (Cebus). Capuchin monkeys often prey on bird eggs, and if left unchecked these mesopredators could lead to the local extintions of sensitive species.

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Harpy eagles are apex predators of their rainforest ecosystems. Hatchling harpy eagles may be at risk from predation by other harpy eagles. This type of predation is a rare occasion as the parents defend the nest and their territory.

Known Predators:

  • Harpy eagles (Harpia Harpyja)

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Known prey organisms

Harpia harpyja preys on:
Brachyteles arachnoides

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Harpy eagles use vocalizations to communicate with one another and visual displays and vocalizations in mating rituals. They will often produce vocalizations while sitting on perches, which sound like "uahaaaau...uahaaaau...uahaaaau". This is believed to be territorial behavior. Pairs of harpy eagles will often rub their bills together, which is believed to be part of mate bonding. Like all birds, harpy eagles perceive their environment through visual, tactile, auditory and chemical stimuli.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic

Other Communication Modes: duets

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

Harpy eagles are estimated to live 25 to 35 years if they remain healthy. Disease and injury dramatically affects their chances of survival by inhibiting their ability to find and capture prey.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
25 to 35 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 16.8 years (captivity)
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Reproduction

Harpy eagles form breeding pairs that last for life. The pair builds the nest together and chirp to each other while doing so. They will occasionally rub their bills together for a few seconds before going back to work. This activity seems to help them to preserve their bond. They build their nests in large, tall trees, high above the forest floor. During the nest building phase, the pair will rarely radiate more than 180 m from the nest. The mating pair of harpy eagles does not have a courtship display before mating, and will mate multiple times over a period of a few days.

Mating System: monogamous

The breeding season for harpy eagles coincides with the start of the rainy season which usually begins in April or May. Harpy eagles construct large nests that measure 1.2 m thick and 1.5 m across. The nests are built 27 to 43 m above ground, and consist of woven sticks lined with soft vegetation and animal fur. These impressive nests are reused by breeding pairs every year. The female lays two eggs, but will raise only one chick. Eggs are incubated for an average of 56 days. Both parents tend the chick for 10 months, well after the chick fledges between 6 and 7 months of age. Juveniles often stay near their parents for some time and will occasionally beg for food. Juveniles do not reach maturity until 5 or 6 years old, at which time they often return to their original nesting area to breed. Pairs of harpy eagles only breed once every 2 to 3 years.

Breeding interval: Harpy eagles breed once every 2 to 3 years.

Breeding season: The breeding season for harpy eagles begins in April or May and lasts until December or January.

Range eggs per season: 1 to 2.

Range time to hatching: 56 (high) days.

Range fledging age: 6 to 7 months.

Average time to independence: 10 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 4 to 5 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 4 to 5 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; oviparous

Harpy eagles invest a lot of time and energy into their offspring. Both parents incubate the egg for the 56 day incubation period. The female will perform most of the incubation while the male is in search of food. Chicks are hatched altricial, and thus are helpless with downy feathers and eyes open. They will only tend a single chick, so if two eggs are laid, the first born will be fed and the second will perish from starvation. The parents actively tend the young for 10 months, which is several months after the chick fledges at 6 or 7 months old. The parents feed the juvenile once every few days and during this time the juvenile is mostly inactive while occasionally making small flights within the nesting tree. Juvenile harpy eagles often remain in the parents' territory for at least 1 year.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning

  • Rettig, N. 1978. Breeding Behavior of the Harpy Eagle. The Auk: A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology, 95/4: pg. 629- 643.
  • Rettig, N., K. Hayes. 1995. Remote world of the harpy eagle. National Geographic, 187.n2: pp 40- 49.
  • de Carvalho, jr., O., M. Galetti. 2000. Sloths in the Diet of a Harpy Eagle Nestling in Eastern Amazon. The Wilson Bulletin, 112/ 4: pg. 535-536.
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
NT
Near Threatened

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Lloyd, H. & Miller, B.

Justification
This species is classified as Near Threatened because it is suspected to be declining moderately rapidly owing to hunting and habitat loss.


History
  • 2012
    Near Threatened (NT)
  • Near Threatened (NT)
  • Near Threatened (NT)
  • Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt)
  • Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt)
  • Threatened (T)
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Harpy eagles are listed as least concern by the IUCN Red List but notes the population is declining. They are listed as endangered by the United States Federal List in isolated regions of Mexico. The international trade of this species is regulated under CITES which considers harpy eagles to be under the greatest threat of becoming endangered. There have been many cases of local extinctions in areas with a lot of human activity. This is caused mainly to the destruction of its habitat due to logging and farming. There have also been reports of harpy eagles being shot by farmers who perceive the eagles as livestock predators. Programs are being set up to educate farmers and hunters to increase awareness and understanding of harpy eagles.

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: appendix i

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened

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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/14/1976
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Harpia harpyja , see its USFWS Species Profile

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Population

Population
Partners in Flight estimated the population to number fewer than 50,000 individuals (A. Panjabi in litt. 2008), thus it is placed in the band 20,000-49,999 individuals here.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Although still reasonably common in the Amazonian forests of Brazil and Peru (H. Lloyd in litt. 1999), it will only survive in the long term if the escalating rate of forest destruction in the region is brought under control and a network of inviolate reserves established (Malingreau and Tucker 1988, Bierregaard 1994a). Low overall population densities and slow reproductive rates make shooting the most significant threat over its entire range (Bierregaard 1994a, Bierregaard et al. 1995). It could perhaps survive in disturbed forests or even forest mosaics if its large size and boldness in the face of humans did not make it an irresistible target for hunters (Bierregaard 1994a, Bierregaard et al. 1995). It presumably also suffers from competition with humans for prey (Galetti et al. 1997b).

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I and II. Reintroductions have taken place in Belize and Panama (Matola 2004, Muela and Curti 2005).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Work with local communities to reduce hunting. Stengthen network of protected areas to include core remaining areas of habitat, and establish a captive breeding population to support future reintroduction and supplementation efforts. Clarify its precise ecological requirements and its ability to persist in fragmented and altered habitats.

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