The American Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is a neotropical eagle, often simply called the Harpy Eagle. This species was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 as Vultur harpyja. It is the only member of the genus Harpia.
It is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas, usually inhabiting tropical lowland rainforests in the upper (emergent) canopy layer.
Its name references the harpies from Ancient Greek mythology. These were wind spirits that took the dead to Hades, and were said to have a body like an eagle and the face of a human.
The Harpy Eagle is arguably the bulkiest eagle still living; however, the Philippine Eagle is the only living eagle to surpass it in size. The extinct Haast's Eagle of New Zealand was almost 50% larger.
The Harpy Eagle's back is covered with slate black feathers and the undercarriage is coated with white. There is a black band across the chest going up to the neck. Its head is pale grey and is crowned with a double crest. This colouring gives it a fearsome look to match its menacing reputation. Due to living in the rainforest, it has shortened wings for speed and maneuverability, and it also has sharp claws which are great for catching its prey. The Harpy Eagle is one of the largest and most powerful eagles in the world; it can grow to a huge length of 36-40 inches (mostly the females of this species). It can reach a weight of 20 pounds and is relatively half the height of an average-sized human.
Female Harpy Eagles average 100-110 cm (3.3 feet)in length with a 200 cm (6 ft, 7 inch) wingspan and typically weigh 6.5 kg to 8 kg (14 to 18 lbs.). One exceptional captive female, "Jezebel", weighed 12.3 kg (26 lb). Only the Philippine Eagle and the Steller's Sea Eagle approach similar dimensions. The male, in comparison, weighs only about 3.8 kg to 5.4 kg (8.5 lb to 12 lb)
The Harpy Eagle is dark grey overall, with an ash-grey head, and white belly. Both sexes possess an erectile crest of long feathers. The talons are up to 13 cm (5 in) long, longer than a Grizzly Bear's claws.
This species is an actively hunting carnivore. Its main prey are tree-dwelling mammals such as monkeys, coatis, and sloths; it may also attack other bird species. The talons are extremely powerful and help assist with suppressing prey. The Harpy Eagle can exert a pressure of 42 kgf cm² (4.1 MPa or 530lbf in) with its talons. It can also lift more than three-quarters of its body weight.
A pair of Harpy Eagles lays two white eggs in a large stick nest high in a tree, and raise one chick every 2-3 years. After the first chick hatches the second egg is ignored and fails to hatch. The chick fledges in 6 months, but the parents continue to feed it for another 6-10 months. It can be aggressive toward humans who disturb its nesting sites or appear to be a threat to its young.
Status and conservation
Harpy Eagle in flight.
The Harpy Eagle is threatened by logging and hunting 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 the Brazilian territory, on the Northern side of the Equator line The Harpy Eagle is considered near threatened by IUCN and threatened with extinction by CITES (appendix I). The Peregrine Fund consider 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.
In popular culture
- The Harpy Eagle is the national bird of Panama, and is depicted on the national Coat of arms.
References and notes
- ^ BirdLife International (2004). Harpia harpyja. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 16 September 2007.
- ^ (Latin) Linnaeus, C (1758). Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.. Holmiae. (Laurentii Salvii)., 86. "V. occipite subcristato."?
- ^ Birds of prey tend to become somewhat overweight in captivity due to lack of exercise and the ready availability of food. Thus, the weight of "Jezebel" would probably not be reached in natural conditions.
- ^ "Senhora dos ares", Globo Rural, ISSN 0102-6178, 11:129, July 1996, pgs. 40 and 42
Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
- Harpy Eagle videos on the Internet Bird Collection
- Neil Rettig's Harpy Eagle information. Includes footage, facts, and links.
- Blue Planet
- Harpy Eagle Photo with prey; Article
- San Diego Zoo info about the Harpy Eagle
- Iwokrama Forest website info about the Harpy Eagle
- Peregrine Fund info about the Harpy Eagle
- Comparison between the Harpy and the Philippine Eagles
- Expedition to Brazilian Amazon with some info about the Harpy Eagle