AppearanceThe 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 black band across the chest up to the neck. The head is pale grey, and is crowned with a double crest. The plumage of male and female is identical. The tarsus is up to 13 cm long.
Female Harpy Eagles typically weigh 6 to 9 kg. One exceptionally large captive female, "Jezebel", weighed 12.3 kg. 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. The wings are relatively short and stubby, the female wing length measuring 58.3–62.6 cm, and the male wing length 54.3–58 cm. Harpy Eagles are 89–105 cm long and have a wingspan of 176 to 201 cm. It is sometimes cited as the largest eagle, however the Philippine Eagle is somewhat longer on average and the Steller's Sea Eagle 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.
DistributionRare throughout its range, the Harpy Eagle is found from Mexico, through Central America and into South America to Argentina. In Central America the species is almost extinct, subsequent to the loss of much of the rainforest there. In rainforests they live from the canopy to the emergent. Within the rainforest they hunt in the canopy or sometimes on the ground, and perch on emergent trees looking for prey.
StatusThe 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/or a supposed one to human life, due to its great size. 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. 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.
HabitatRare throughout its range, the Harpy Eagle is found from Mexico, through Central America and into South America to Argentina. In Central America the species is almost extinct, subsequent to the loss of much of the rainforest there. In rainforests they live from the canopy to the emergent. Within the rainforest they hunt in the canopy or sometimes on the ground, and perch on emergent trees looking for prey.
ReproductionA 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 to 10 months. It can be aggressive toward humans who disturb its nesting sites or appear to be a threat to its young. 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.
FoodThe 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 such as sloths, monkeys, coatis, porcupines, kinkajous, anteaters and opossums; 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. In the Pantanal, a pair of nesting eagles preyed 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%. Additional prey items reported include reptiles such as iguanas and snakes. On occasion, larger prey such as capybaras and young 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. The Harpy may take domestic livestock but this is extremely rare. They control population of mesopredators such as capuchin monkeys which prey extensively on bird's eggs and which may cause local extinctions of sensitive species.
The Harpy's talons are extremely powerful and assist with suppressing prey. The Harpy Eagle can exert a pressure of 42 kgf/cm² with its talons. It can also lift more than three-quarters of its body weight. That allows the bird to snatch a live sloth from tree branches, as well as other huge prey items: There are accounts of Harpies capturing and flying off with howler monkeys and sloths weighing up to 6.5 to 7.7 kg.
Cultural* The Harpy Eagle is the national bird of Panama and is depicted on the coat of arms of Panama.
⤷ The Harpy Eagle is featured on the cover of the O'Reilly Media book, "R in a Nutshell".
⤷ The Harpy Eagle was the inspiration behind the design of Fawkes the Phoenix in the Harry Potter film series.
⤷ A Harpy Eagle called Bubba features extensively in Garry Kilworth's novel "Frost Dancers" as the adversary of the hares that are the heroes of the book.
⤷ The 15th Harpy Eagle, named "Hope" released in Belize, was dubbed, "Ambassador for Climate Change," in Belize, in light of the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009
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