Skip to main content

Guiana crested eagle

Morphnus guianensis

Some of the few captive specimens have been mistaken for the much larger Harpy eagle. This remarkable resemblance extends to juvenile plumage — newly fledged birds of both species have white heads. Crested eagles usually eat smaller monkeys than Harpies, and more often hunt reptiles. Like the Harpy eagle, it is considered Near Threatened, since it requires mature forest. Those at the DWA are now the only birds outside of Tropical America, though this species bred at the Oklahoma City Zoo some years ago.

Description: Guiana crested eagles have a fringe of feathers growing around or on the neck and a long, narrow black crest that is tipped with white. The crest is single (not divided as in the Harpy eagle). The sexes are alike except in size, with females being larger than males. They have broad, rounded wings and a very long tail that allows for maneuvering around forest trees in search of prey. The black tail has bold, broad bars and is narrowly tipped in white. Guiana crested eagles occur in two forms — the less common, dark phase and the light phase. The dark phase is mainly black with heavily banded black and white underparts. In the pale phase, the crown is grayish black, with the head, neck and chest becoming pale gray. The upper back is black or brownish/black. The throat is white and the underparts are white, with pale reddish-brown bars. Females are slightly darker on the head and breast than the males.

Size: They grow to 32-34 inches (81-86 cm) and weigh approximately 6.5 pounds (3 kg). Females are larger than males.

Behavior: They are normally found alone or in pairs, perched for long periods of time on branches in the highest tree tops. They may fly slowly above the canopy, scoping out prey as they move about, or they may still-hunt from their perch.

Diet: This species is an actively hunting carnivore, feeding on snakes, small to medium-sized mammals, arboreal rodents, marsupials (such as opossums), birds and reptiles.

Communication: Females are said to call from the nest and males call as they approach the nest to bring food.

Reproduction: Guiana crested eagles build large, stick nests in tree forks high in the canopy. One or two cream-colored, spotted eggs are believed to be laid and incubated around 45-50 days. The male feeds the female during incubation and he feeds both the female and the hatchling for the first month. Fledgling may take up to 114 days.

Habitat/range: These raptors are found in South and Central America: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. They live primarily in tropical and subtropical forest, often where observation is difficult.

Status: Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on IUCN Red List and CITES Appendix II.