Big, menacing, with eyes that pierce through the toughest person’s soul, the harpy eagle is a bit bigger than the average bird of prey. Living in territories spreading from Mexico to Brazil and northern parts of Argentina, this eagle is at the top of the food chain.
With talons able to lift prey equal to their own body weight and a wing-span of up to seven feet, these human-sized birds will have you running in the opposite direction. But don’t run far quite yet; you’re going to want to read these facts first.
First Documented By Carl Linnaeus
The first documented description of the harpy eagle was made in 1758, in Carl Linnaeus’ 10th edition of Systema Naturae. In the book, the harpy was called Vultur harpyja, after the Ancient Greek mythological harpy creature.
In Greek mythology, the harpy is a wind spirit that takes the spirits of the dead down to Hades. The mythological creature is said to have the body of a hawk and the face of a woman.
The Harpy Eagle Is One Of The Largest Birds Of Pery
The harpy eagle is one of the largest and most ferocious birds of prey found in their rainforest habitat. With the longest talons of any living creature, the harpy is born to do one thing: hunt.
Those razor-sharp talons, along with the harpy’s powerful legs, are able to lift prey equal to the bird’s own weight, an impressive feat. Ironically, the harpy eagles hunting skills aren’t the only trait that makes this bird one of the more vicious creatures of the rainforest.
Their Wingspan Is Larger Than Most Humans Full Height
While there are some tall people in the world, the harpy eagle blows them all out of the water. This bird of prey’s wingspan is wider than a solid percentage of the world’s population in height.
An adult harpy eagle’s wingspan can range from between five feet and nine inches to an astounding seven feet and four inches. The large span allows the eagle to easily dive, glide, and catch their prey through thick vegetation customary to the grounds of a rainforest.
A Full-Grown Harpy Eagle Is The Size Of A Human Torso
While some animals species are notoriously large, at least they’re normal looking! On the other hand, the harpy eagle looks menacing with the size of its body, something that can be double the size of the average adult torso.
Fully grown, a harpy eagles body can range from two feet ten inches to three feet six inches. To put it in perspective, the average length of an adult humans torso is, at maximum, 21 inches!
The Females Weigh More Than The Males
Like many bird species, the female is a bit larger than the male. On average, a harpy female can weigh up to 20 pounds, with the largest on the record being a solid 27 pounds. The males, on the other hand, weigh up to an average of 18 pounds.
Due to the decreasing number of harpy eagles in the wild, both the female and male birds’ average weights decrease in captivity.
Their Claw Can Wrap Around A Human Fist
While the harpy eagle’s body is almost as tall as a toddler, It’s not the only part of the bird that is “human-sized.” This bird of prey has claws large enough that if an adult human makes a fist, the eagle is able to close its claws around it!
That means the harpy eagles claws are practically the same size as an outstretched human hand. Although they look menacing, the claws and talons play an important role in the eagles’ lives.
They Like To Perch And Watch
Imagine walking through the rainforest only to see a huge bird of prey sitting on a tree branch! It’d be a bit startling for sure, especially considering the harpy eagle is notorious for being a sit-and-wait predator.
This means they enjoy perch-hunting, briefly staying on one tree branch to scan the area for prey before moving on to another tree to scour the area. When the eagle sees something they want, they dive from the tree, glide, and capture.
Silent, Brooding Type That Can Fly 50mph
While their sit-and-wait approach might seem silly for an animal of their size, the harpy eagle enjoys its silent brooding. Seriously, though, unlike other birds, the harpy eagle is pretty silent, not vocalizing much unless it’s in the form of a wail.
They’re pretty much broody teenagers waiting around for prey to fall into their laps. But when that happens, watch out. These birds might be emotional, but that doesn’t stop them from flying up to 50 miles an hour if they need to!
The Talons Mean Business
The harpy eagle is among the world’s largest and most powerful eagles. And while they have an impressive wingspan and weight, their talons are something else altogether. Able to dig deep into tree branches to stabilize the bird’s massive body, there’s little that can stand in the way of the sharp instruments and prey.
Amazingly, the harpy eagles’ talons can grow up to five inches long. For comparison, that’s longer than grizzly bears!
Hunting Isn’t An Everyday Activity
While the harpy eagle looks very menacing and like something that would take pleasure out of hunting every day, that’s not the case. This bird of prey goes after larger prey, such as sloths, monkeys, and sometimes even live-stock cattle.
Because of their larger game, harpy eagles don’t have a need to hunt each day. They’re lucky, and the prey they catch gives them a few days worth of meat. That being said, it doesn’t stop them from swooping down and snatching a snake or lizard if it tickles their fancy.
Their Face Feathers Are Very Distinctive
Like many birds, the harpy eagle has a feather pattern that distinguishes it from others of its species. Like an owl, the harpy eagle has a facial disk of pale grey feathers that circle the head like a crown.
The eagles can raise and lower these feathers at will, typically when they feel threatened. Interestingly, unlike other birds, the harpy’s feather color doesn’t differ between males and females. Each gender has the same white, gray, and black coloring.
They Build Their Nest In One Of The Tallest Trees
In an ideal world, harpy eagles enjoy building their nests close together. Some reports show nests being as close as two miles from one another. But even if they’re unable to have their close neighbor, harpy eagles build their nests and lay their eggs in the same fashion.
These huge birds often build their nests on one of the tallest trees in South America, the kapok tree. In many South American cultures, it’s considered bad luck to cut down the kapok tree, as it would disturb the eagles’ habitat.
Nests Are Built Using Up To 300 Branches
Harpy eagle nests are pretty intricate, made up of close to 300 branches from around the rainforest. And that’s not the only part. These nests are the home to up to two five-foot-tall birds and their eggs, so they’re pretty big.
At the top of the kapok trees, harpys’ build their nests to span almost six feet of space. Needless to say, they’re pretty much natural architects who know how to make the most of the space they’re given!
Harpys Are Attentive Parents
They might build their nests in one of South America’s tallest trees, but that doesn’t mean harpy eagles aren’t attentive parents! These birds actually want nothing more than to give their offspring the most attention possible.
This specific eagle is so attentive that they typically only raise one chick every two to three years. In a lot of instances, a harpy will lay two eggs, but once one hatches, the other is left alone, normally failing to hatch because it’s ignored.
Baby Harpys Are Fluffy And White
While full-grown harpy eagles are huge, menacing, and look like something out of a nightmarish version of Sleeping Beauty, their babies couldn’t be more opposite. When they’re first born, harpy eagle chicks are small, fluffy, and white.
With each molting season, the chicks gain more and more grey feathers. They reach full frightening maturity by the time they’re around five years old. Then, they’re sporting the grey, black, and white coloring of adult harpy eagles.
Getting Kicked Out Of The Nest (Not Literally Though)
Harpy eagles are interesting; they don’t leave home until they are considered fully mature. That maturity is around four to five years old. It’s only then that they leave their mother’s nurturing care and the familiarity of their childhood nest to fend for themselves.
Once they leave, it’s up to the teenage harpy to build their own nest, find a mate, and start the reproduction cycle all over again!
Miles Of Undisturbed Forest Is Ideal
Ideally, the harpy eagle would love to have miles of untouched rainforest to thrive. Since these birds do not migrate, a well established hunting ground is key to their survival. With threats coming from every direction in the form of sport hunters and deforestation, harpy populations are vastly dwindling.
And if their one to two chicks every few years comes into consideration, these birds cannot repopulate their numbers at a quick enough rate to keep up with the destruction.
Deforestation And Hunting Are Huge Concerns
Unfortunately for the harpy eagle, leaving the nest is becoming less and less of a commonality. Deforestation has left many harpys without a home, causing the haunting bird to be a rarity in the wild.
On top of the issue that arises with deforestation, hunting is another huge concern for the species. That’s right; these birds are seen as a threat to livestock as well because of their huge size.
They Don’t Pose A Threat To Humans
Even though harpy eagles tend to stay in their rainforest habitat, they sometimes venture towards larger livestock. That along with its large size is enough incentive for hunters to go after the bird, even though they don’t pose a threat to humans.
Its large size coupled with the birds’ fearless and brooding attitude makes it an “irresistible target” for some hunters, dwindling its numbers and making it categorized as a “near threatened” species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Protecting The Harpy Eagle
Until recently, the San Diego Zoo was the only establishment in the United States to house one of these majestic birds. Now, Zoo Miami has successfully rendered a chick from parents located at the San Diego Zoo!
The Panama-based Peregrine Fund is also working on active captive breeding programs, raising harpy eagle chicks and releasing them back into their native wilderness of Panama and Belize. Since its start, the Fund has released a total of 49 birds back into the wild!