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American Harpy Eagle

This article is about the Harpy Eagle of the Americas. For the Harpy Eagle of New Guinea, see New Guinea Harpy Eagle.

The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), sometimes known as the American Harpy Eagle, is a Neotropical species of 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 America, and among the largest extant species of eagles in the world. It usually inhabits tropical lowland rainforests in the upper (emergent) canopy layer.

Its name refers to the harpies of 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 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 stripped 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 talons are up to long.

Female Harpy Eagles typically weigh . One exceptional captive female, "Jezebel", weighed , possibly because of relative lack of exercise and readily available food at a zoo. The male, in comparison, weighs only about . Harpy Eagles are long and have a wingspan of approximately . Among extant species, only the Philippine Eagle and the Steller's Sea Eagle approach similar dimensions, although the wingspan of the Harpy Eagle is relatively small (an adaptation that increases maneuverability in forested habitats) and is matched or surpassed by other species. The extinct Haast's Eagle was significantly larger than the Harpy.


This species is an actively hunting carnivore. Its main prey are tree-dwelling mammals such as sloths, monkeys, coatis, porcupines, kinkajous, anteaters and opossums ; research conducted between 2003 and 2005 in a nesting site in Parintins, Amazonas, Brazil, where remains from prey offered to the nestling were collected and identified, 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). The eagle may also attack bird species such as macaws: at the Parintins research site, the macaw Ara chloroptera made for 0.4% of the prey base, with other birds amounting to 4.6%

The harpy's talons are extremely powerful and assist with suppressing prey. The Harpy Eagle can exert a pressure of 42 kgf/cm (4.1 MPa or 530lbf/in2) 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 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 safe guard the habitat of this stately eagle.Piper, Ross (2007), Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals, Greenwood Press.

Status and conservation

The 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.Talia Salanotti, researcher for the Brazilian National Institute of Amazonian Research, cf. O Globo, May the 13th. 2009; abridgement available at [*]; on the random killing of harpies in frontier regions, see [*] 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."Senhora dos ares", Globo Rural, ISSN 0102-6178, 11:129, July 1996, pgs. 40 and 42 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 Espirito Santo, Sao Paulo and Parana, endangered in Rio de Janeiro, and probably extirpated in Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais - the actual size of her total population in Brazil being unknown."Viva a Rainha", story by Clarice Couto, Globo Rural, 25:288, October 2009, page 65

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. It's 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.

National initiatives

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 Darien Province, Panama. A similar - and grander, given the dimensions of the countries involved - research project is currently afoot in Brazil, at the National Institute of Amazonian Research, through which 45 known nesting locations are being monitored by researchers and voluntaries from local communities. A Harpy Eagle chick has been fitted with a radio transmitter that will allow it to be tracked for more than three years via a satellite signal sent to INPE (Brazilian National Institute for Space Research). Projecto Gaviao-real. INPA; Globo Rural, 25:288, page 62. Also, a photographic recording of a nest site in the Carajas National Forest is presently being made by the photographer for the Brazilian edition of National Geographic Magazine Joao 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 re-establishment of the Harpy Eagle within Belize. The population of the eagle declined as a result of forest fragmentation, shooting, and nest destruction, resulting in local extinction of the species in Belize. 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 extinct population in the Brazilian state of Parana 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.Revista Globo Rural, 24:287, September 2009, 20

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 traffick were restored to the wild and monitored in Paramillo National Park in Cordoba Department, another couple being kept in captivity at a research center for breeding and eventual release A monitoring effort with the help of voluntaries 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 afoot as of 2005 in the state of Bolivar, Venezuela.

Popular culture

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

External links

Harpy Eagle videos, photos & sounds on the Internet Bird Collection

Neil Rettig's Harpy Eagle information

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

Harpy Eagle an Endangered Species

Harpy eagle information and photo

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article American Harpy Eagle

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