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Harpy eagle

Harpia harpyja

Description: The upper side of the Harpy eagle is covered with slate black feathers and the underside is white. There is a black band across the chest up to the neck. The head is pale gray and crowned with a double crest. The plumage of male and female is identical. The talons are up to 5 inches (13 cm) long. Their grip is so strong they can crush a monkey’s skull or possibly even certain human bones.

Size: Females typically weigh 14 -20 lbs (6.4 – 9 kg). The male, in comparison, weighs only about 8.5 -12 pounds (3.9 – 5.4 kg). This eagle is 2.9 – 3.4 feet (0.88 -1.04 m) long and has a wingspan of approximately 6.7 feet (2 m).

Behavior: Harpies are great at saving precious energy. Harpies hunt in and below the rain forest canopy; they perch silently for hours in a tree, waiting to drop on unsuspecting prey. Flying below the canopy, the birds are capable, in a serious chase, of reaching speeds of 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour). The eagle dives down onto its prey and snatches it with outstretched feet. Its short, broad wings help the Harpy fly almost straight up, so it can attack prey from below as well as above. It can also turn its head upside down to get a better look at its potential meal. These eagles have excellent vision and can see something less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in size from almost 220 yards (0.20 km) away.

Diet: 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 such as macaws.

Communication: Harpy eagles do not vocalize much; when heard they wail (wheeeeeee, wheeeeooooo), croak, whistle, click and mew.

Reproduction: Harpy eagles mate for life. The female lays two white eggs in a large stick nest high in a tree and together they raise one chick every 2–3 years. After the first chick hatches 53 – 58 days later, the second egg is ignored and fails to hatch. The chick fledges in about 6 months, but the parents continue to feed it for another 6 to 10 months. The Harpy often builds its nest in the crown of the kapok tree, one of the tallest trees in South America.

Habitat/range: Harpy eagles are found in tropical lowland forests from southeastern Mexico to northern Argentina and southern Brazil. This bird prefers large expanses of uninterrupted forest, but will hunt in open areas adjacent to forest patches. The Harpy eagle is the national bird of Panama.

Status: Classified as Near Threatened (NT) on IUCN Red List and threatened with extinction by CITES Appendix I.