10 Fun Facts About the Harpy Eagle

April 10th is National Harpy Eagle Day in Panama. We join the celebration with 10 fun facts that you might not know about this amazing raptor that crowns the Panamanian coat or arms.
Harpy Eagle.

The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja)  is considered one of the most powerful and largest raptors globally. The length of the rear talons is about 4 to 5 inches, just the same as a grizzly bear's claws. Those talons give the Harpy enough power and grip to lift prey up to their own weight. 

Native to Central and South America, it was named for the Harpies of Greek mythology, gruesome women with the bodies of birds. Across the Americas, the Harpy has been revered as a divine creature. 

As top predators in their food chain, Harpies feed on sloths, opossums, and monkeys. This eagle is a silent predator that glides across the forest like a stealth drone; despite its wingspan reaching up to 6.5 feet (2 meters). Still, it won't fly long distances to conserve energy and strength to catch and lift small animals weighing 17 pounds. Wander and stalking its prey is not their game, and instead, it sits and patiently waits until they come along. 

Here are some facts that will surprise you about one of the largest raptors in the Americas and in the 10 Top list of the world's breathtaking eagles: 

  1. This bird is found in the sparsely inhabited rain forests of Central and South America. They prefer heights of 600 to 2000 meters above sea level and like to perch close to the ground for an easy hunt. 
  2. The coloration of its plumage has 3 primary colors (black, grey, and white) that exhibit a combination of shades and gradients. The tonalities are the same between males and females. Still, it does present a slight variation between young and adults where the intensity of the colors changes, being the adults darker and the young lighter.
  3. The Harpy Eagle's facial disk feathers can be lowered or lifted at will like an owl. This process helps them direct sound waves to their ears to improve hearing. Its eyesight is 8 times better than humans, and when locked on a potential meal, they fly below the forest canopy and swoop in to catch their prey.
  4. Monogamous and with a lifespan of 35 to 45 years, a bonded pair may stay together for 25 to 30 years. Yeah, #couplegoals. Instead of migrating, they stay in one place and establish their territory, preferring areas with tall trees that provide enough food. 
  5. Harpy pairs reproduce every 2 or 3 years and lay 1 or 2 eggs. The brooding period is approximately 2 months, and the couple works together. 
  6. Harpies build massive nests out of sticks. They have the size of a double bed and can be 30-50 meters (100-165 feet) from the ground. One nest contains more than 300 branches. Harpy Eagles continually bring fresh green twigs to the nest to keep it clean from parasites and insects.  
  7. Females are larger than males. In her prime, an adult female Harpy Eagle can grab targets weighing up to 20 lbs in flight and carry them without landing. 
  8. They consume 800 grams (1.75 lbs.) of food per day and do not have to hunt every day. Large prey stashed in the trees can be finished a couple of days in a row.
  9. While predators like jaguars and Golden Eagles can vary their eating habits with habitat change, Harpies seem less flexible. 
  10. The Harpy Eagle is recognized as an ecological detective. The presence of this bird indicates that all species in the ecosystem are in total balance.

The Harpy Eagle is not only the National Bird of Panama. It is also the emblem of the Colombian Air Force, the Ecuadorian symbol of biodiversity, and could be found on the Venezuelan 10 bolivares bills. Last but not least, the Harpy Eagle was the inspiration behind the design of 'Fawkes,' the Phoenix in the Harry Potter film series.