The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), is a Neotropical species of eagle. It is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas, and among the largest extant species of eagles in the world. It usually inhabits tropical lowland rainforests in the upper (emergent) canopy layer. Destruction of its natural habitat has seen it vanish from many parts of its former range, and it is almost extinct in Central America.
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 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 (5.1 in) long.
Female Harpy Eagles typically weigh six to nine kg (13 to 20 lb). One exceptionally large captive female, “Jezebel”, weighed 12.3 kg (27 lb).
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 four to 4.8 kg (8.8 to 11 lb). 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 (2.92–3.44 ft) long and have a wingspan of 176 to 201 cm (5 ft 9 in to 6 ft 7 in). 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 that 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.
Rare 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.
The 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.
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 (if not naturally controlled) 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 (4.1 MPa or 530 lbf/in2 or 400 N/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 (14 to 17 lb).
Harpy Eagles lay two white eggs in a large stick nest high in a tree, and raise one chick every two–three years. After the first chick hatches, the second egg is ignored and fails to hatch. The chick fledges in six months but the parents continue to feed it for another six 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 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.
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.
(Source: Wikipedia – The Free Online Encyclopedia)
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