(TMU) — Harpy eagles are the giants of the birds of prey world—not only in size but also in looks—even though they are rarely sighted in the wild.
With large quizzical eyes, a feathered collar framing the face, a full dress of black, grey, and white feathers, and a grey feathered crown to complete the picture, these birds are reminiscent of a high court judge in full robes and wig—ready to pass judgement.
Female eagles are always bigger than their male counterparts. A female harpy eagle weighs in at between 13 to 20 lbs (6-9 kg) while a male typically weighs 9 to 13 lbs (4-6 kg). In comparison, a female bald eagle reaches an average of around 12 lbs (5.5kg). Other than size the male and female harpy are identical in appearance.
The natural habitat of the harpy eagle is the upper canopy of tropical lowland forests stretching from Mexico to Brazil and northern Argentina. Because they hunt in the forests their wingspan is shorter than most other eagles, making it easier for them navigate. Other eagle species usually hunt in large open areas and also fly higher and farther than the Harpy does. Despite the smaller wingspan the harpy eagle remains the biggest existing eagle in the world.
Harpy eagles are extremely successful hunters and sit at the top of its food chain. The huge and powerful talons the harpy use to capture prey other eagles would probably not attempt to capture. Larger than those of any other eagle, the harpy’s rear talons measure 5 in (12.7 cm) in length which is actually bigger than Grizzly Bear’s claws! With such power it should come as no surprise that the harpy eagle is at the top of its food chain.
Harpy eagles preserve their energy and rarely soar long distances as other eagles do. Their favorite foods are monkeys and sloths, and because they save energy from not flying large distances harpy’s have enough strength to catch animals that weight up to 17 lbs (8 kg). They are silent hunters and patient hunters, sitting on a convenient perch for as long as it takes for a meal to come by for pick up. With flying speeds of up to 50 mph (80 kmh) it’s an easy swoop and catch.
These days harpy eagles are becoming very rare to sight across Latin America as rain forest deforestation continues to shrink their natural habitat. Harpy eagles like many birds are monogamous and raise only one eaglet every two years, making it all the more difficult for the population to recover in the event of a decline in population.
Harpy’s perform a vitally important function to keep the ecosystem healthy. The large birds help keep the population of capuchin monkeys in check. Capuchins are likely to cause the extinction of some birds thanks to their tendency to steal and eat the eggs from nests.
All is not lost for the harpy eagles. Thanks to The Peregrine Fund, a group that has been working tirelessly for 20 years to create awareness and save these magnificent eagles and their habitat.
“Although harpy eagles maintain healthy populations in South America, the outlook is troubling in Central America, where in most countries they are listed as Critically Endangered. New roads, slash-and-burn farming, and forest fires threaten to destroy intact rain forests that are crucial to their survival.“
To join The Peregrine Fund in the fight to save the harpy and other raptors, visit their website for more information.
Typos, corrections and/or news tips? Email us at [email protected]