Harpy eagles are America’s most powerful birds of prey that live in the tropical rainforest. They are a key bio-indicator, meaning if there are good numbers of harpies in the forest, then it is certain that there is a healthy number of its prey species.

In Greek mythology, the harpy was a terrifying creature with the body of an eagle and the face of a woman. Harpies flew about in flocks and had a foul smell and sharp claws.

The aptly named harpy eagle of Central and South America has a piercing gaze and fan-like crest that give it a fearsome look. It has dark slate-grey plumage. with lighter grey feathers on its head and face. A broad bib of black separates its head and underside. Its belly and legs are a startling white.

Harpies are America’s most powerful birds of prey, though not the largest (that title is held by the Andean condor). They live in the tropical rainforest, and unlike eagles that live in the open, they prefer to hunt just beneath the canopy – this in spite of having a wingspan of around 2.5 m! The wings are shorter and broader than those of other eagles to facilitate hunting among the trees. As with most eagle species, female harpies are almost double the size of males.

These fascinating eagles are extremely dexterous fliers and at the top of the food chain wherever they live. Harpies can weave in and out of branches and pluck unlucky sloths and monkeys off like ripe fruit with their wickedly curved, razor sharp talons. The back talons are longer than those of a grizzly bears at 13 cm. Sloths and monkeys are the females’ favourite food but the males prefer the smaller opossums, fawns, snakes, iguanas, and even porcupines.

A harpy eagle can perch silently for hours and hours, waiting for a meal. It can fly almost vertically, so it can attack from below as well as drop down from above. It can turn its head upside down to get a look at its prey as it zooms in. Its keen eyes can spot something as small as two cm in size from 200 metres away.

Harpy eagles are elusive and rarely seen, though their range is very wide. They are near-threatened due to logging and agriculture. No one knows how many remain in the wild – scientists believe the number could be between 20,000 and 50,000.

Fact file

  • Harpies build huge nests measuring around 1.2 m wide and 1.5 m long, big enough for a person to lie in!
  • The birds mate for life, and once a nest is built, an eagle pair may reuse and repair the same nest for many years.
  • Harpy eagles are usually quiet but they can wail, croak, whistle, click, and mew.
  • Monkeys and sloths may weigh up to eight kg but a harpy’s talons can latch on with a pressure of over 50 kg. This is bone-crushing, and the victim dies instantly.
  • Chicks are pure white and attain adult colouring at the age of three. The harpy is Panama’s national bird.
  • The eagle is a key bio-indicator. That is, if there are good numbers of harpies in the forest, then it is certain that there is a healthy number of its prey species.

Picture Credit : Google 

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