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.
- 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/
Mexico south to Argentina
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
Chocó-Darién Moist Forests Habitat
This taxon can be found in the Chocó-Darién moist forests ecoregion, one of the most species rich lowland areas on Earth, with exceptional abundance and endemism over a broad range of taxa including plants, birds, amphibians and arthropods. The biological distinctiveness is exceptional, with considerable biodiversity.
There are three principal geomorphologic types in the ecoregion: alluvial plains of recent origin, low mountains formed by the relatively recent dissection of sediments from the Tertiary and Pleistocene periods, and the complexes in mountain areas consisting of mesozoic rocks. The high precipitation and the topography mean that the ecoregion includes a complex of great hydrographic basins, the most important being those of the Atrato, Baudó, and San Juan Rivers and the Micay and Patía Rivers in the south. The force of the water in many of these rivers form deep gorges cutting through the mountains, creating spectacular rapids and waterfalls in the mountains. At lower elevations, large rivers become very wide and with many meanders. Given the high precipitation in the region, it is not surprising that the soils are severely leached and poor in nutrients. Most of the ecoregion has typical laterite soils with reddish clay, although the soils are younger and less leached in some areas, especially close to the base of the Andes and in the floodplains of the major rivers. Of particular botanical interest are the white clay soils in the region of Bajo Calima in Colombia, which are associated with the gigantic sclerophyllous leafed and unusually large fruited vegetation.
Depending on the altitudinal gradient, soil water content and the effect of the sea, there are various types of vegetation that make up the ecoregion. In broad terms, in the northern part of the ecoregion, the lowland rainforests correlate to the Brosimun utilis alliance, including communities dominated by the deciduous Cuipo tree (Cavanillesia platanifolia), the Espavé wild cashew (Anacardium excelsum), the Panamanian rubber tree (Castilla elastica), Brosimum guianense, Bombacopsis spp., Ceiba pentandra, Dipteryx panamensis, and others. In the undergrowth Mabea occidentalis, Clidemia spp., Conostegia spp. and Miconia spp. are abundant. In zones that are occasionally flooded, the Cativo (Prioria copaifera) flourishes as well. In the southern part of the ecoregion, these rainforests have multiple strata, with two layers of trees, lianas, and epiphytes with vigorous growth rates. The number of deciduous plants increases in the north and south, where there is a dry season, particularly near the coast. The forests at higher altitudes, starting at 600 meters, have communities with the following species: Guamos (Inga spp.), Billia columbiana, Brosimum sp., Sorocea spp., Jacaranda hesperia, Pourouma chocoana, Guatteria ferruginea, Cecropia spp., Elaegia utilis, and Brunellia spp.
There are at least 127 species of amphibians in the Choco-Darien, including the following endemic anuran species: Isla Bonita robber frog (Craugastor crassidigitus); Kokoe poison frog (Phyllobates aurotaenia NT), found on western slopes of the Cordillera Occidental , along the Rao San Juan drainage south to the Rao Raposo; Golden poison frog (Phyllobates terribilis EN); La Brea poison frog (Oophaga occultator); Andagoya robber frog (Pristimantis roseus); Antioquia beaked toad (Rhinella tenrec); Atrato glass frog (Hyalinobatrachium aureoguttatum); Blue-bellied poison arrow frog (Ranitomeya minuta); Colombian egg frog (Ctenophryne minor), known only to the in the upper Rao Saija drainage; Condoto stubfoot toad (Atelopus spurrelli VU); Flecked leaf frog (Phyllomedusa psilopygion); LeDanubio robber frog (Strabomantis zygodactylus). An endemic salamander present in the Choco-Darien is the Finca Chibigui salamander (Bolitoglossa medemi VU).
Some other non-endemic anurans found here are: Anatipes robber frog (Strabomantis anatipes); Banded horned treefrog (Hemiphractus fasciatus); Black-legged poison frog (Phyllobates bicolor NT); Horned marsupial frog (Gastrotheca cornuta EN), known for having the largest amphibian eggs in the world; El Tambo stubfoot toad (Atelopus longibrachius EN); Elegant stubfoot toad (Atelopus elegans CR). Endemic caecilians in the ecoregion include the Andagoya caecilian (Caecilia perdita).
There are a number of reptilian taxa within the ecoregion, including: Adorned graceful brown snake (Rhadinaea decorata); the endemic Black centipede snake (Tantilla nigra); Boulenger's least gecko (Sphaerodactylus scapularis VU); the endemic Iridescent ground snake (Atractus iridescens); the endemic Cauca coral snake (Micrurus multiscutatus); the endemic Colombian coral snake (Micrurus spurelli); the endemic Dark ground snake (Atractus melas); the endemic Colombian mud turtle (Atractus melas VU); and the endemic Echternacht's ameiva (Ameiva anomala).
There are 577 species of birds recorded; Tyrannidae is listed as the most diverse avian family, presenting 28 genera and 60 species within the ecoregion. The Choco-Daroemis is a center of avian endemism of the Neotropics; moreover, according to Stattersfield, this ecoregion spans two Endemic Bird Areas, one in Central America and one in South America.
Between these two Endemic Bird Areas there are over sixty restricted range species, including the Chocó tinamou (Crypturellus kerriae VU), Chestnut-mantled Oropendola (Psarocolius cassini EN), Viridian dacnis (Dacnis viguieri), Crested ant-tanager (Habia cristata), Lita woodpecker (Piculus litea), and Plumbeous forest-falcon (Micrastur plumbeus EN). Also to be noted is the presence of the Harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja), the Black and white crowned eagle (Spizastur melanoleucus), taxa increasingly rare in many areas of the Neotropics, and possibly the Speckled antshrike (Xenornis setifrons EN) although one has not been recorded in Colombia since the 1940s.
The region is rich in mammalian taxa, but the larger animals have received inadequate research. These include the Bush dog (Speothos venaticus NT); Chocó tamarin (Saguinus geoffroyi EN), the Baird's Tapir (Tapirus bairdii EN), the Giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla VU), the Brown-headed spider monkey (Ateles fuscipens CR), the Puma (Puma concolor VU), the Ocelot (Leopardus pardalis LC), and the jaguar (Panthera onca NT).
- C. Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund. 2014."Chocó-Darién moist forests". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Mark McGinley.
- S. D. Davis, V.H. Heywood, O. Herrera-MacBryde, J. Villa-Lobos, and A.C. Hamilton, editors. 1997. Centres of Plant Diversity. A Guide and Strategy for their Conservation. Volume 3: The Americas. World Wildlife Fund and IUCN. ISBN: 283170197X
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.
- C.Michael Hogan and World Wildlife Fund. 2010. "Talamancan Montane Forests". Encyclopedia of Earth, National Council for Science and the Environment, Washington DC ed.Mark McGinley. updated 2012
- S.D. Davis, V.H. Heywood, O. Herrera MacBryde, J. Villa-Lobos and A.C. Hamilton, editors. 1997. Centres of Plant Diversity. A Guide and Strategy for their Conservation. Volume 3. The Americas. IUCN Publications Unit, Cambridge, U.K. 562 pp.
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.
Habitat and Ecology
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)
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.
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.
- Harpy eagles (Harpia Harpyja)
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and 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
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.
Status: wild: 25 to 35 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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.
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
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2012Near Threatened
Date Listed: 06/14/1976
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
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
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.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There have been reports of harpy eagles preying on small livestock, such as chickens, of local farmers. However, this is a rare occurrence and the eagles overall have no adverse effects on humans.
Harpy eagles will occasionally be used in ceremonial rituals by indigenous hunters. Harpy eagles are also the national birds of both Panama and Parana, Brazil.
The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is a Neotropical species of eagle. It is sometimes known as the American Harpy Eagle to distinguish it from the Papuan Eagle which is sometimes known as the New Guinea Harpy Eagle or Papuan Harpy Eagle. It is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas, and among the largest extant species of eagles in the world. It usually inhabits tropical lowland rainforests in the upper (emergent) canopy layer. Destruction of its natural habitat has seen it vanish from many parts of its former range, and it is nearly extirpated in Central America. In Brazil, the Harpy Eagle is also known as Royal-Hawk (in Portuguese: Gavião-Real).
The Harpy Eagle was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae in 1758 as Vultur harpyja, after the mythological beast harpy. The only member of the genus Harpia, the Harpy Eagle is most closely related to the Crested Eagle (Morphnus guianensis) and the New Guinea Harpy Eagle (Harpyopsis novaeguineae), the three composing the subfamily Harpiinae within the large family Accipitridae. Previously thought to be related, the Philippine Eagle has been shown by analysis of DNA to belong elsewhere in the raptor family as it is related to the Circaetinae.
The upper side of the Harpy Eagle is covered with slate black feathers, and the underside is mostly white, except for the feathered tarsi, which are striped black. There is a broad black band across the upper breast, separating the gray head from the white belly. The head is pale grey, and is crowned with a double crest. The upper side of the tail is black with three gray bands, while the underside of it is black with three white bands. The iris is gray or brown or red, the cere and bill are black or blackish and the tarsi and toes are yellow. The plumage of male and female is identical. The tarsus is up to 13 cm (5.1 in) long.
Female Harpy Eagles typically weigh 6 to 9 kg (13 to 20 lb). One source states that adult females can scale up to 10 kg (22 lb). An exceptionally large captive female, "Jezebel", weighed 12.3 kg (27 lb). Being captive, this large female may not be representative of the weight possible in wild Harpy Eagles due to differences in the food availability. The male, in comparison, is much smaller and weighs only about 4 to 4.8 kg (8.8 to 10.6 lb). Harpy Eagles are 86.5–107 cm (2 ft 10 in–3 ft 6 in) long and have a wingspan of 176 to 224 cm (5 ft 9 in to 7 ft 4 in). Among the standard measurements, the wing chord measures 54–63 cm (1 ft 9 in–2 ft 1 in), the tail measures 37–42 cm (1 ft 3 in–1 ft 5 in), the tarsus is 11.4–13 cm (4.5–5.1 in) long and the exposed culmen from the cere is 4.2 to 6.5 cm (1.7 to 2.6 in).
It is sometimes cited as the largest eagle alongside the Philippine Eagle, that is somewhat longer on average and the Steller's Sea Eagle, that is slightly heavier on average. The wingspan of the Harpy Eagle is relatively small, an adaptation that increases maneuverability in forested habitats and is shared by other raptors in similar habitats. The wingspan of the Harpy Eagle is surpassed by several large eagles who live in more open habitats, such as those in the Haliaeetus and Aquila genera. The extinct Haast's Eagle was significantly larger than all extant eagles, including the Harpy.
This species is largely silent away from the nest. There, the adults give a penetrating, weak, melancholy scream, with the incubating male's call described as "whispy screaming or wailing". The females calls while incubating are similar but are lower pitched. While approaching the nest with food, the male calls out "rapid chirps, goose-like calls, and occasional sharp screams". Vocalization in both parents decreases as the nestlings age, while the nestlings become more vocal. The nestlings call Chi-chi-chi...chi-chi-chi-chi, seemingly in alarm in respond to rain or direct sunlight. When humans approach the nest, the nestlings have been described as uttering croaks, quacks and whistles.
Distribution and habitat
Rare throughout its range, the Harpy Eagle is found from Mexico (almost extinct), through Central America and into South America to as far south as Argentina. The eagle is most common in Brazil, where it is found across the entire national territory. With the exception of some areas of Panama, the species is almost extinct in Central America, subsequent to the logging of much of the rainforest there. The Harpy Eagle inhabits tropical lowland rainforests and may occur within such areas from the canopy to the emergent vegetation. They typically occur below an elevation of 900 m (3,000 ft) but have been recorded at elevations of up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft). Within the rainforest, they hunt in the canopy or sometimes on the ground, and perch on emergent trees looking for prey. They do not generally occur in disturbed areas but will regularly visit semi-open forest/pasture mosaic, mainly in hunting forays. Harpies, however, can be found flying over forest borders in a variety of habitats, such as cerrados, caatingas, buriti palm stands, cultivated fields and cities. They have been found in areas where high-grade forestry is practiced.
The Harpy Eagle is an actively hunting carnivore and is an apex predator, meaning that adults are at the top of a food chain and have no natural predators. Its main prey are tree-dwelling mammals and a majority of the diet has been shown to focus on sloths and monkeys. Research conducted by Aguiar-Silva between 2003 and 2005 in a nesting site in Parintins, Amazonas, Brazil, collected remains from prey offered to the nestling and after sorting them, concluded that, in terms of individuals preyed upon, the harpy's prey basis was composed in 79% by sloths from two species: Bradypus variegatus amounting to 39% of the individual prey base, and Choloepus didactylus to 40%; various monkeys amounted to 11.6% of the same prey base. In a similar research venture in Panama, where a couple of captive-bred subadults was released, 52% of the male's captures and 54% of the female's were of two sloth species (Bradypus variegatus and Choloepus hoffmanni). At one Venezuelan nest, all remains found around the nest site were comprised by sloths. Monkeys regularly taken can include capuchin monkeys, saki monkeys, howler monkeys, titi monkeys, squirrel monkeys and spider monkeys. Smaller monkeys, such as tamarins and marmosets, are seemingly ignored as prey by this species. At several nest in Guyana, monkeys made up approximately 37% of the prey remains found at the nests. Similarly, cebid monkeys made up 35% of the remains found at 10 nest in Amazonian Ecuador. Other partially arboreal mammals are also predated given the opportunity, including porcupines, squirrels, opossums, anteaters, and even relatively large carnivores such as kinkajous, coatis and tayras. In the Pantanal, a pair of nesting eagles preyed largely on the porcupine Coendou prehensilis and on the agouti Dasyprocta azarae. The eagle may also attack bird species such as macaws: At the Parintins research site, the Red-and-green Macaw made up for 0.4% of the prey base, with other birds amounting to 4.6%. Other parrots, including the large Hyacinth Macaw, have also been predated, as well as cracids such as curassows and seriemas. Additional prey items reported include reptiles such as iguanas, tejus and snakes. Snakes of up to 5 cm (2.0 in) in diameter have been observed to be cut in half, then the pieces are swallowed whole. On occasion, larger prey such as capybaras, peccaries and deer are taken and they are usually taken to a stump or low branch and partially eaten, since they are too heavy to be carried whole to the nest. Red brocket deer, a species commonly weighing over 30 kg (66 lb), have been reportedly predated and, in such cases, the eagle may have to tear it into pieces or feed on at the killing site rather than fly with as it would be too heavy. The Harpy have been recorded as taking domestic livestock, including chickens, lambs, goats and young pigs, but this is extremely rare under normal circumstances. They control population of mesopredators such as capuchin monkeys which prey extensively on bird's eggs and which (if not naturally controlled) may cause local extinctions of sensitive species.
The Harpy Eagle routinely takes prey weighing more than 7 kg (15 lb). The harpy eagle possess the largest talons of any living eagle. The Harpy's feet are extremely powerful and can exert a pressure of 42 kgf/cm² (4.1 MPa or 530 lbf/in2 or 400 N/cm2) with its talons. The Harpy Eagle has been recorded as lifting prey up to equal their own body weight. That allows the bird to snatch a live sloth from tree branches, as well as other huge prey items. Males usually take relatively smaller prey, with a typical range of 0.5 to 2.5 kg (1.1 to 5.5 lb) or about half their own weight. The larger females take larger prey, with a minimum recorded prey weight of around 2.7 kg (6.0 lb). Adult female Harpys regularly grab large male howler or spider monkeys or mature sloths weighing 6 to 9 kg (13 to 20 lb) in flight and fly off without landing, an enormous feat of strength. Prey items taken to the nest by the parents are normally medium-sized, having been recorded from 1 to 4 kg (2.2 to 8.8 lb). The prey brought to the nest by males averaged 1.5 kg (3.3 lb), while the prey brought to the nest by females averaged 3.2 kg (7.1 lb).
Sometimes, Harpy Eagles are "sit-and-wait" predators (common in forest-dwelling raptors). In Harpies, this consists of perching and watching for long time intervals from a high perch near an opening, a river or salt-lick (where many mammals go to feed for nutrients). The more common hunting technique of the species is perch-hunting, which consists of scanning around for prey activity while briefly perched between short flights from tree to tree. When prey is spotted, the eagle quickly dives and grabs the prey. On occasion, Harpy Eagles may also hunt by flying within or above the canopy. They have also been observed tail-chasing, a predation style common to hawks that hunt birds, the Accipiters. This comprises the eagle pursuing another bird in flight, rapidly dodging among trees and branches, which requires both speed and agility.
In ideal habitats, nests may be fairly close together. In some parts of Panama and Guyana, active nests were located 3 km (1.9 mi) away from one another, while they are within 5 km (3.1 mi) of each other in Venezuela. In Peru, the average distance between nests was 7.4 km (4.6 mi) and the average area occupied by each breeding pairs was estimated at 4,300 ha (11,000 acres). In less ideal areas, with fragemented forest, breeding territories were estimated at 25 km (16 mi). The female Harpy Eagle lays two white eggs in a large stick nest, which commonly measures 1.2 m (3.9 ft) deep and 1.5 m (4.9 ft) across and may be used over several years. Nests are located high up in a tree, usually in the main fork, at 16 to 43 m (52 to 141 ft), depending on the stature of the local trees. The harpy often builds its nest in the crown of the kapok tree, one of the tallest trees in South America. In many South American cultures it is considered bad luck to cut down the kapok tree, which may help safeguard the habitat of this stately eagle. The bird also uses other huge trees to build its nest on, such as the Brazil nut tree. A nesting site found in the Brazilian Pantanal was built on a Cambará tree (Vochysia divergens).
There is no known display between pairs of eagles and they are believed to mate for life. A pair of Harpy Eagles usually only raise one chick every 2–3 years. After the first chick hatches, the second egg is ignored and normally fails to hatch unless the first egg perishes. The egg is incubated for around 56 days. When the chick is 36 days old, it can stand and walk awkwardly. The chick fledges at the age of 6 months, but the parents continue to feed it for another 6 to 10 months. The male captures much of the food for the incubating female and later the eaglet, but will also take an incubating shift while the female forages and also brings prey back to the nest. Breeding maturity is not reached until birds are 4 to 6 years of age. Adults can be aggressive toward humans who disturb the nesting site or appear to be a threat to its young.
Status and conservation
Although the Harpy Eagle still occurs over a considerable range, its distribution and populations have dwindled considerably. It is threatened primarily by habitat loss provoked by the expansion of logging, cattle ranching, agriculture and prospecting. Secondarily, it is threatened by being hunted as an actual threat to livestock and/or a supposed one to human life, due to its great size. Although not actually known to predate humans and only rarely a predator of domestic stock, the species' large size and nearly fearless behavior around humans reportedly make it an "irresistible target" for hunters. Such threats apply throughout its range, in large parts of which the bird has become a transient sight only: in Brazil, it was all but totally wiped out from the Atlantic rainforest and is only found in numbers in the most remote parts of the Amazon Basin; a Brazilian journalistic account of the mid-1990s already complained that at the time it was only found in numbers, in Brazilian territory, on the northern side of the Equator. Scientific 1990s records, however, suggest that the Harpy Atlantic Forest population may be migratory. Subsequent research in Brazil has established that, as of 2009, the Harpy Eagle, outside the Brazilian Amazon, is critically endangered in Espírito Santo, São Paulo and Paraná, endangered in Rio de Janeiro, and probably extirpated in Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais – the actual size of their total population in Brazil is unknown.
Globally, The Harpy Eagle is considered Near Threatened by IUCN and threatened with extinction by CITES (appendix I). The Peregrine Fund until recently considered it a "conservation-dependent species", meaning it depends on a dedicated effort for captive breeding and release to the wild as well as habitat protection in order to prevent it from reaching endangered status but now has accepted the Near Threatened status. The Harpy Eagle is considered critically endangered in Mexico and Central America, where it has been extirpated in most of its former range: in Mexico, it used to be found as far North as Veracruz, but today probably occurs only in Chiapas in the Selva Zoque. It is considered as Near Threatened or Vulnerable in most of the South American portion of its range: at the Southern extreme of its range, in Argentina, it's found only in the Parana Valley forests at the province of Misiones. It has disappeared from El Salvador, and almost so from Costa Rica.
Various initiatives for restoration of the species are currently afoot in various countries: Since 2002, Peregrine Fund initiated a conservation and research program for the Harpy Eagle in the Darién Province, Panama. A similar—and grander, given the dimensions of the countries involved—research project is currently occurring in Brazil, at the National Institute of Amazonian Research, through which 45 known nesting locations (presently updated to 62, only three outside the Amazonian Basin and all three presently inactive) are being monitored by researchers and volunteers from local communities. A Harpy Eagle chick has been fitted with a radio transmitter that allows it to be tracked for more than three years via a satellite signal sent to INPE (Brazilian National Institute for Space Research). Also, a photographic recording of a nest site in the Carajás National Forest is presently being made by the photographer for the Brazilian edition of National Geographic Magazine João Marcos Rosa.
In Belize, there exists The Belize Harpy Eagle Restoration Project. It began in 2003 with the collaboration of Sharon Matola, Founder & Director of The Belize Zoo and The Peregrine Fund. The goal of this project was the reestablishment of the Harpy Eagle within Belize. The population of the eagle declined as a result of forest fragmentation, shooting, and nest destruction, resulting in near extirpation of the species. Captive bred Harpy Eagles were released in the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area in Belize, chosen for its quality forest habitat and linkages with Guatemala and Mexico. Habitat linkage with Guatemala and Mexico were important for conservation of quality habitat and the Harpy Eagle on a regional level. As of November 2009, fourteen Harpy Eagles have been released and are monitored by the Peregrine Fund, through satellite telemetry.
In January 2009, a chick from the all but extirpated population in the Brazilian state of Paraná was hatched in captivity at the preserve kept at the vicinity of the Itaipu dam by the Brazilian/Paraguayan state-owned company Itaipu Binacional. In September 2009, an adult female, after being kept captive for twelve years in a private reservation, was fitted with a radiotransmitter before being restored to the wild in the vicinity of the Pau Brasil National Park (formerly Monte Pascoal NP), in the State of Bahia.
In December 2009, a 15th Harpy Eagle was released into the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area in Belize. The release was set to tie in with the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009, in Copenhagen. The 15th eagle, nicknamed "Hope," by the Peregrine officials in Panama, was the "poster child" for forest conservation in Belize, a developing country, and the importance of these activities in relation to global warming and climate change. The event received coverage from Belize's major media entities, and was supported and attended by the U.S. Ambassador to Belize, Vinai Thummalapally, and British High Commissioner to Belize, Pat Ashworth.
In Colombia, as of 2007, a couple of Harpies composed of an adult male and a subadult female confiscated from wildlife trafficking were restored to the wild and monitored in Paramillo National Park in Córdoba, another couple being kept in captivity at a research center for breeding and eventual release. A monitoring effort with the help of volunteers from local Native American communities is also afoot in Ecuador, including the joint sponsorship of various Spanish universities—this effort being similar to another one going on since 1996 in Peru, centered around a Native Community in the Tambopata Province, Madre de Dios Region. Another monitoring project, begun in 1992, was operating as of 2005 in the state of Bolívar, Venezuela.
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