The American Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is a neotropical eagle, often simply called the Harpy Eagle. This species was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema naturae in 1758 as Vultur harpyja. It is the only member of the genus Harpia.
It is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas, usually inhabiting tropical lowland rainforests in the upper (emergent) canopy layer.
Its name references the harpies from 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 with white. There is a black band across the chest up to the neck. The head is pale grey, and is crowned with a double crest. This colouration gives it a menacing look to match its reputation. It can grow to be as large as 36 to 40 inches (this mainly is seen in the females of the species). It can reach a weight up to 20 pounds.
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. The talons are extremely powerful and assist with suppressing prey. The Harpy Eagle can exert a pressure of 42 kgf/cm² (4.1 MPa or 530lbf/in2) with its talons. It can also lift more than three-quarters of its body weight.
A pair of Harpy Eagles lays two white eggs in a large stick nest high in a tree, and raise one chick every 2–3 years. After the first chick hatches, the second egg is ignored and fails to hatch. The chick fledges in 6 months, but the parents continue to feed it for another 6 to 10 months. It can be aggressive toward humans who disturb its nesting sites or appear to be a threat to its young.
Status and conservation
The Harpy Eagle is threatened by logging and hunting 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 The Harpy Eagle is considered Near Threatened by IUCN and threatened with extinction by CITES (appendix I). The Peregrine Fund consider 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 to stay out of endangered status. A research project is currently afoot at the National Institute of Amazonian Research, through which 45 known nesting locations are being monitored by voluntaries. A Harpy chick has been fitted with a radio transmitter that will allow it to be tracked via a satellite signal.
In popular culture
* The Harpy Eagle is the national bird of Panama and is depicted on the national Coat of arms.
References and notes
1. ^ BirdLife International (2004). Harpia harpyja[dead link]. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 16 September 2007.