The Earth is home to thousands of bird species living in different regions and various weather conditions, but no other bird found around the world is as powerful and ferocious as the Harpy Eagle, a strange and fascinating animal that is rarely seen but is silently dominating its habitat in the wild.
The Harpy Eagle, which has the scientific name Harpiaharpyja, got its name from the South American explorers who first discovered the bird. These explorers likened its appearance to a harpy, a half-human and half-bird creature from Greek mythology that is said to have razor-sharp claws.
A mature harpy eagle has white feathers on its head, and its upper body is coated with dark gray, light gray, and black feathers. Its lower body is covered with white feathers, and there may be several patches of gray and black colors around it.
Its beak has a sharp and pointy hook at the front, and this is possibly used to kill prey. Speaking of sharp, its menacing talons can push down prey to stop them from moving, and once it gets a grip of the helpless animal, the harpy eagle will then exert more than 50 pounds of pressure on its body and pierce it with the sharp edges of the talons, which can crush and wound the prey’s internal organs.
In terms of its prey, the harpy eagle usually eats animals that are often found in trees like monkeys and sloths. But if there is no available prey in the trees, the bird can settle with porcupines, iguanas, and even snakes.
If the harpy eagle takes a prey that is too heavy to carry to its nest, it will eat portions of it until it is light enough to transport using its talons.
The harpy eagles are found in Central America and the northern to central parts of South America, although they are rare and are not seen as often due to how few they are in terms of their population. The eagle is considered near-threatened, which is a category given by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to species that may become extinct in the near future.
There are several reasons why the harpy eagle is considered near-threatened. Firstly, it will take at least two to three years for a female harpy eagle to lay an egg, and females would usually lay only one or two eggs during that period.
Before the female is able to mate and lay an egg, harpy eagles would typically build nests in silk-cotton trees that are normally 80 to 150 feet high. The eagles will then gather branches and sticks around the area to construct their nests, and once they are able to build its foundation, the eagles will then cover it with softer materials like leaves or animal fur to make it more comfortable to live in. Harpy eagle can build nests that measure up to 5 feet long.
The nests are solidly built and can last for many years, and that is why a harpy eagle couple also uses their only nest to hatch an offspring. It is interesting to note that harpy eagles commonly mate for life, which is another reason why they are near-threatened since a couple won’t mate with others, resulting in a low birth rate for the species.
Once the female lays one or two eggs, the egg that comes out first will be given more attention than the second one. Due to this “favoritism,” as some may call it, the second egg will usually die due to not getting proper incubation from its parents. Interestingly, the second egg serves as a backup in case something happens to the first egg.
Both the male and female harpy eagles take turns in incubating the eggs, but the female takes the most time to incubate since the male likely spends almost the entire day to hunt for food.
The chick that comes out of the incubated egg will have all-white feathers, and the gray parts seen in the adult harpy eagles wouldn’t grow until they are three years old.
During the growing stage of the chick, its parents will feed it food that they hunt for 9 to 10 months, but the chick will be able to develop wings to fly in just five months. However, it still won’t fly much after that since it will still rely on its parents to get its food. But after a year, the parents will eventually give no more food to the eaglet, forcing it to hunt for food on its own and slowly adapt to its environment.
The most prominent reason why harpy eagles are threatened to become extinct is because of the destruction of their habitat and environment caused by illegal logging and poaching. These acts also led to the reduction of their prey in the wild, since they all live under the same habitat. If there is less prey, there is less food, and when there is less food, the harpy eagles will eventually starve to death.
Illegal hunting is also a problem that conservationists are trying to solve, as hundreds and hundreds of hunters are still shooting and killing beautiful animals just for the enjoyment of it, and without having any knowledge of the situations that these animals have in terms of their reduced population.
Today, there are a few zoos out there that are doing their best in restoring the natural population of the harpy eagle. Some of these zoos include Zoo Miami, the San Diego Zoo, Sao Paulo Zoo, and Belize Zoo. It is critical for everyone to be knowledgeable about the status of threatened animals on our planet so that the ones who will be born after our generation will still be able to see these majestic creatures in person and not just in books and on the internet.