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Eagle, Harpy

Harpy Eagle at the LA Zoo Photo Credit Jamie Pham

Scientific Name: Harpia harpyja

Female harpy eagles are larger than males; they can weigh almost twice as much as their mates.

Harpy eagles are determined birds of prey built for speed and maneuverability. They take advantage of barren openings in forests to locate their next meal and proceed to chase it through the forest. These monogamous birds live in widely distributed pairs throughout the forests of Central and South America.

Relentless Raptors

Like many birds, harpy eagles mate for life. They construct loose nests out of sticks high in the tree tops to shelter their young. The female lays two eggs and incubates them for 53-58 days. The first egg to hatch is nurtured, while the second perishes. Both parents care for the chick for its first 10 months. The chick leaves the nest after four and a half to six months, but will remain in its parents’ territory for at least a year or more. Because each chick requires so much care, harpy eagles only reproduce every two to three years.

The survival of each chick depends on its father’s ability to hunt. The male eagle engages in wild pursuits through the rainforest, reaching speeds up to 50 miles per hour. When finally within striking distance, he descends upon his prey with grizzly bear-size talons. However, because a harpy eagle cannot carry prey weighing more than half of its own body weight, the male will consume part of the kill to the point that he can carry the rest back to his mate and chick.

Harpy eagles are listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Harpy eagles live in dense stretches of tropical forests ranging from southern Central America to northern South America—with southern Mexico and northernmost Argentina, respectively, defining more specific northern and southern boundaries.

These diurnal carnivores hunt arboreal (tree-living) mammals, reptiles, and other birds. Their most common animals of prey include monkeys, sloths, opossums, and other rodents.

These majestic birds weigh 10-20 pounds, with the males weighing less than the females. Their bodies extend 36-43 inches, and they have a wingspan that reaches up to seven feet. Their dark gray wings are rounded and agile; this structure is beneficial for racing through the treetops. Slate-black feathers extend over their dorsal side, while light gray to white feathers remain on their undersides. A dark band runs horizontally across their necks. Their tails, also dark in color, have horizontal bars patterned across the long feathers.

Harpy eagles have double crests that they raise when feeling threatened. They have dark brown eyes and a strong, hooked gray bill. Perhaps the most notable feature of harpy eagles is their five-inch claws.

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