Creatures of the Amazon
The Harpy Eagle

By Mike Collis

The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) can be found as far South as Argentina and up to Mexico in the North, and although it not on the threatened list they are quite rare. The Harpy Eagle or American Harpy Eagle is the biggest and most powerful of all birds of prey (raptors) found in the western hemisphere. They usually live in lowland rainforests but human encroachment into their territory has meant they are difficult to find in their former habitat. In Central America it is considered virtually extinct.

The Harpy Eagle gets its name from Greek mythology, "Harpies" was a wind spirit with the body of an eagle and a human face. It is said that Harpies carried the dead to their future life or Hades.

The plumage on the upper side of the body is gunmetal grey and its underside is mainly white except the tail which has black stripes. Below the neck is a black strip down to mid chest. Harpy Eagles have a double crest atop a light grey head. Males and females are very much alike in plumage. Considering the birds size its wingspan is comparatively short being up to 6 feet 6" across, this short wingspan gives the Harpy Eagle more maneuverability in the confinement of the rainforest. From head to tail they reach up to 3 feet 6" in length. Female Harpy Eagles weigh much heavier than males being up to 20lbs, males weigh only up to 11 lbs. Harpy Eagles adapt to captivity and some females have grown to over 25lbs in weight mainly due to a continued food supply and lack of exercise.

The Harpy Eagle has no natural predators and are carnivorous. They will catch and eat almost any living creature that it can latch its fierce talons into. Prey includes sloths, monkeys, agoutis, anteaters, porcupines, iguanas, snakes and parrots. They are known to be able to lift and carry up to 75% of their body weight and can tear a full grown sloth from its tree and carry it off. Occasionally Harpy Eagles have been known to catch heavier prey such as deer and capybara but they usually carry these off to a nearby tree stump where they consume enough meat to lighten it, and then carry it away to a safer location. Attacks on domestic animals are very rare.

During the nesting season the males and females construct nests out of twigs and branches. Normally they only nest in the highest trees like the kapok or brazil nut trees. They are very protective and will even be aggressive to humans who stray too close to their nesting site. The pair lay 2 white eggs and every 2 to 3 years they only raise only one chick. The 2nd egg is abandoned and never hatches. After 6 months the young Harpy fledges but the parent still continue to feed it for up to another 10 months.
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