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Species Spotlight: The Harpy Eagle

Harpy Eagle

Just when you thought that eagles couldn’t get any cooler! Meet the Harpy Eagle. This impressive raptor is one of the largest eagles around. With their enormous size and striking silhouette, the Harpy Eagle is an unforgettable raptor.

Harpy Eagles are falcons belonging to the Accipitridae family. This is a broad category that includes anything from Bald Eagles to the smaller Cooper’s Hawks that you’re probably accustomed to seeing in your own backyard. On such an illustrious family tree, it takes a lot to stand out, but the mighty Harpy Eagle is up to the task.

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Fun Facts About the Harpy Eagle

Sleek and gray, with a feathered crest for a crown, the Harpy Eagle is a stunningly beautiful bird. It’s no wonder that the Portuguese name for this regal raptor is “gavião-real” meaning “Royal-hawk.” Let’s learn more about what makes the Harpy Eagle so special.

  • Claws like a bear: Harpy Eagle talon claws measure in at roughly 5 inches long. This is longer than a grizzly bear’s claws! And they aren’t just for show, either. Harpy Eagles use these impressive claws to exert hundreds of pounds of crushing pressure.
  • Wicked wingspan: Standing at roughly 3.5 feet tall, the Harpy Eagle is already taller than a small child. But wait ’til you see those wings! Harpy Eagles’ wingspans can reach lengths of over seven feet. This might not be the longest wingspan in the animal kingdom, but it’s enough to dwarf most humans.
  • Jungle hunter: Speaking of claws, the Harpy Eagle often uses them to snatch monkeys and sloths out of trees in the jungles of South America. This takes considerable maneuverability. Despite their incredible size, Harpy Eagles are built for navigating the jungle canopy. They can even swoop up from beneath their prey!
  • Ambush predator: Harpy Eagles are fearsome and strong, but it takes more than power to make a great hunter. Despite their overwhelming force, Harpy Eagles often catch prey through patience. They may wait all day on a single perch, watching distant prey with their powerful vision, before finally making their move.
  • First born favorite: Harpy Eagles mate for life and are very attentive parents — if you’re the firstborn, that is. Like many other birds, Harpy Eagles devote their attention to their first hatchling, ignoring the second egg or hatchling almost entirely. They tend to lay two eggs, but only one will ever reach adulthood. the second egg acts as an insurance policy in case the firstborn hatches out sickly or weak.

The Future of the Harpy Eagle

Harpy Eagles are indicator species. This means that their population stability is indicative of the overall health of the ecosystem. For Harpy Eagles to thrive, an entire rainforest habitat must be perfectly balanced. When Harpy Eagle populations fall, it is a strong hint that something may be wrong. In parts of Central America, the decline of the Harpy Eagle is largely due to deforestation. While this species is listed as “vulnerable” globally, in Central America, including Panama where the Harpy Eagle is the state bird, these powerful raptors are critically endangered. Conservation efforts aimed at restoring and supporting their populations are underway.

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