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Everything You Wanted to Know About the Harpy Eagle

I have always had an interest in nature and birds of prey in particular. Join me in learning about these majestic creatures.

Unfamiliar to many of us here in the United States and Europe, the Harpy Eagle is one of the largest and most powerful of all eagle species. Very recognizable due to its double-crested head feathers, the Harpy is a feared predator and resides at the top of the food chain throughout its range.

If you’re wondering where the name Harpy comes from, its origins are from Greek mythology where harpies were large winged creatures with sharp claws, a vulture’s body, and a woman’s face. Also, harpy comes from the Greek word "harpe" and refers to a bird of prey mentioned by many Greek scholars.

Description

Both the male and the female have the trademark double crest of gray feathers on their head. The crest rises when the Harpy is in a state of alertness or hostility and gives them a rather mean and aggressive look.

Their plumage is black on top and light gray to white underneath with a broad black band that stretches across their upper breast. The head is gray and their tail feathers are black with three gray bands. Both the male and female have identical plumage.

The yellow feet of the Harpy are as big as a human hand and their talons can be up to five inches long, which makes for quite the weapon.

Size

The Harpy Eagle is larger than both the American Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle. As with many other birds of prey the female is considerably larger than the male. Females can weigh from 14 to 20 pounds while the smaller male ranges from 10 to 16 pounds. In extreme cases, the female can be twice the size of her male.

Harpy Eagles can measure from 34 to 42 inches in length and have a wingspan of between six to seven feet. While this may sound big, their wingspan is actually considered short when compared to other large eagles. The reason for this is because the Harpy is designed for maneuverability and speed, which are needed when flying in a jungle environment.

Range and Habitat

The Harpy’s range extends from the tropical rainforest of Mexico and Central America, and across a good swath of South America including Brazil and Argentina. It prefers large areas of uninterrupted forest in which to hunt making the Amazon rainforest the perfect habitat for it.

The Harpy builds large nests, which makes sense given their size. They prefer to nest high up in the canopy of tall trees usually above one hundred feet. One of their favorite trees to nest in is the Kapok tree, which is one of the tallest tree’s found in South America. The nests consist mostly of sticks and fresh leaves and can measure up to five feet across and four feet deep.

Diet

The Harpy Eagle is an active hunter and their prey are mainly tree-dwelling mammals. They are diurnal, meaning they are daytime hunters. The majority of their prey consists of sloths, monkeys, opossums, and other birds on occasion.

Research conducted in Brazil at a nesting site showed that sloths made up the majority of this particular pair's diet followed by monkeys.

The speed and maneuverability of the Harpy allow them to hunt in the forest and it is not uncommon for them to fly at upwards of 50 mph and snatch their unsuspecting prey from the tree limbs.

When those head feathers get ruffled the Harpy is one intimidating looking bird!

When those head feathers get ruffled the Harpy is one intimidating looking bird!

Breeding

Like other eagle species, the Harpy is monogamous meaning it mates for life. They usually reach their breeding maturity between four to six years of age. The Harpy Eagle has one of the longest breeding periods of any bird of prey. A pair will raise only one chick every two or three years.

A nesting pair will generally lay two eggs and the female will do most of the incubating with the male relieving the female for short stints so she can hunt. The incubating period lasts about eight weeks.

Once the first egg hatches the second egg is ignored and usually does not hatch. After five weeks the eaglet can stand and walk but it will take approximately five to six months before the chick fledges. The parents will continue to feed and care for the chick for up to ten months and the young eagle will remain within the parent’s territory for at least a year.

With no known predators in the wild, the lifespan of the Harpy Eagle is estimated to be between twenty-five and thirty-five years.

Status

The Harpy Eagle is currently listed as a near-threatened species across much of its South American range.

The biggest threat to the species is from a loss of habitat due to clear-cutting and cattle ranching. Poaching has also been an issue. Captive breeding programs established by the Peregrine Fund have so far kept the Harpy from reaching an endangered status in South America.

In Mexico and Central America, it is a different story and here the Harpy is critically endangered. Countries such as Costa Rica and El Salvador have seen the Harpy all but disappear.

The Harpy Eagle faces many challenges going forward. Not the least of these is the fact that the Harpy has such a low reproduction rate, which puts a lot of pressure on the species. This combined with the continuing destruction of the rainforest across the Amazon basin means the road ahead for the Harpy Eagle will be difficult.

Interesting Facts

  • The Harpy Eagle is the national bird of Panama.
  • The five-inch talons of the Harpy are the size of a bear claw.
  • A female Harpy Eagle can fly with prey up to their body weight (20 lbs).
  • They have been known to live for up to forty years in captivity.
  • The Harpy can fly up to fifty miles per hour.
  • It is not known how many Harpy Eagles remain in the wild but estimates place it at 20,000 to 50,000.
  • The Harpy Eagle is considered to be the largest eagle in the Americas and the second largest eagle in the world behind the Philippine Eagle.

© 2012 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on August 24, 2019:

Hi Trish. Wow! I’m envious. They are such beautiful creatures. Keep up the great work and thank you for what you do.

Trish Nixon on August 24, 2019:

I’m the woman in the photo feeding the Harpy Eagle (Boise Idaho) it’s the same Harpy in the photo of the Harpy flying in your article. I trained the bird for the Peregrine Fund.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 25, 2015:

Hi Diana. Glad you enjoyed the hub. The Philippine Eagle certainly is one of the most majestic creatures on the planet. It's so unfortunate that it's future is in jeapardy. We certainly need to educate people to the importance of living in harmony with the other creatures that we share this planet with.

Diana Burrell-Shipton from Hubbard, Ohio, USA on May 25, 2015:

Beautiful bird !

I grew up watching "Wild Kingdom" and Jacques Cousteau and the other nature shows and I miss them.

We need to learn about our planet and the creatures who share it with us.

Thank you :)

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 24, 2015:

Hi Janis. Yes, thanks to Kevin this is circulating again. So glad you enjoyed learning about the Harpy Eagle. This really is an amazing creature and one not to be messed with. Thank you for the vote, etc. have a great holiday.

Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on May 24, 2015:

WOW! What a bird, a beautiful but scary bird no less! This was a fascinating read. I really enjoyed learning about the Harpy Eagle. The "Interesting Facts" section is amazing. Thank you for a very entertaining education about this bird. I'm glad this is circulating again. Voted up and interesting.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 24, 2015:

Hi Phyllis. Thank you. Of all the Birds of Prey that I have written about this one may be the most amazing. Between their size, strength and ability to maneuver through the forest this is one formidable eagle. And yes, there would be nothing funny about coming face to face with this bad boy. Thanks again. Have a nice Holiday weekend.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 24, 2015:

Hi Heidi. Yeah for a while I was writing a series on Birds of Prey. I have thought about continuing with it. It's just another area of interest to me. Glad you enjoyed the Harpy. This is one incredible creature. Have a wonderful Holiday weekend.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 24, 2015:

Kevin, I very much appreciate you pointing it out. I would rather know and fix it than have it go unnoticed by me. Thanks again.

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on May 24, 2015:

My gosh, Bill, this is one incredible bird. I have heard of the Harpy Eagle but did not realize the facts you provided are so ... incredible !!! To have feet and claws that big is really amazing.

I enjoyed learning about the Harpy and your pictures are great. I am so glad Kevin shared this hub and I spotted it. It is very well-written with a wealth of information.

Voted up and all except funny (ain't nothing funny about a bird that big and powerful) and H+.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on May 24, 2015:

This is a change of pace for you! Had never heard or seen this amazing creature. Thanks for sharing. Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

The Examiner-1 on May 24, 2015:

You are welcome Bill, I was not sure whether I should say it at first. I hate when those typos get past us. :-)

Kevin

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 24, 2015:

Hi Shyron. Thank you, glad you enjoyed the hub. The Harpy Eagle is certainly a powerful and feared hunter in its range. Hopefully conservation efforts will be enough to insure its long term survival. Thanks again, have a great day.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 24, 2015:

Hi Kevin. Thank you, glad you enjoyed the Hub. And thank you for pointing out the typo. Seems no matter how many times I read an article a typo always seems to get by me.

The Harpy certainly is an amazing creature. Pretty fearsome looking eagle with that double crest. Thanks again, have a great day.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on May 24, 2015:

Wow Bill, this is very informative, I had never heard of this majestic bird. Awesome pictures.

Voted up, UABI and shared.

The Examiner-1 on May 24, 2015:

Hello Bill,

That was a very useful Hub about a very interesting bird. I have heard of these eagles before, since I have studied birds for years, but I do not travel so I have never seen one. I voted this up, shared and pinned it.

Kevin

P.S. - As soon as I began reading I noticed that you should have put food 'chain' {instead of change}

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on December 01, 2014:

Hi Blackspaniel1. Thank you. The Harpy is one of my favorite eagle species. I love its look when those crest feathers get ruffled. Just an amazing creature. Thanks for stopping by.

Blackspaniel1 on December 01, 2014:

Great hub, and excellent images. I learned something here.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 22, 2014:

Hi Nick. I knew you would get to the Harpy eventually. The Harpy has to be one of my favorites. When those crest feathers are up this is one intimidating looking bird.

I think there will always be a discussion as to which species is bigger, Harpy or Philippine. I think it comes down to what criteria one uses to determine this. The Philippine is generally considered to be the largest because of its length but both the Harpy and the Steller's are heavier on average. They are all incredible creatures.

Regarding attacks on humans there have been a number of recorded incidents by eagles on humans. Usually it's due to humans getting too close or the eagle feels threatened or is protecting it's nest and young. They are very rare but have happened. I have not heard of any documented cases of a child being taken by an eagle.

nick on February 22, 2014:

Bill, is there any acount about these bird attack humans? I have read in wiki that small of the ungulates and humas are taken as a prey. Does it mean it preys to human? I

nick on February 22, 2014:

Hi Bill!!!!

Thanks for your writing these blog. Im a big fun of these bird since i was a child. Surprise to know that these is the second largest in the world. Coz id always thought its the largest. When i was in college lots of my ornitologist friends from UCLAB agreed its the second largest next to monkey eating eagle i used to argue with them ofentimes. Its funny until one of them show me the experiment done in chicago field museum. Im a bit agreed until my sister show me your blog i was totally convinced. She said before it was believed that the Harpy is the largest but later studies revealed that some male phil eagle is even larger than the female harpy base on comparing individual species that can be found in the Phil eagle foundation and Harpy eagle foundation in Panama. The rarity of the Phil eagle is one of the main reason it was not recognize as the largest before coz very few studies has been made even the BBC and the National Geographic doesent have anyboutstanding documentary about these bird. Your blog was so reliable and and axact. Thanks for writing such incredible piece, very useful for students.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on January 22, 2014:

Hi Jerry. Thanks for stopping by. The Harpy is one amazing creature.

jerry on January 22, 2014:

Interesting these bird blew me away....although they are considered to be the second largest in the world but they are extremely strong and powerful..thanks good blog...

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 14, 2013:

Hi rajan. The Harpy sure does look menacing. When those crest feathers are ruffled he looks like he means business. I would love to see one in the wild someday. Thanks for the vote, pine, etc. Have a great day.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on April 13, 2013:

Very interesting read. I haven't seen this eagle but it sure has a menacing look with the ruffled feathers and those talons sure look powerful.

Voting up, interesting and pinned.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on April 07, 2013:

Hi there stuff4kids. Thanks so much for stopping by to read about the Harpy Eagle, a truly magnificent bird. It continues to amaze me how many wonderful and unique creatures there are across the world. I found the Harpy to be just amazing. Thanks again for the read, vote, etc. Have a great day.

Amanda Littlejohn on April 07, 2013:

What a wonderful hub about a truly magnificent bird!

I loved this, so full of good quality info and beautiful photographs - totally enthralling piece of work. Boy, would I like to see one of these live and flying.

I was waiting with a kind of sense-of-doom anticipation for the part when you told us that it it endangered because of human activity. So few people seem to care. Either that or they feel powerless.

Thanks for a great read. Voted up and ticked across ('part from funny).

Bless you :)

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 09, 2013:

Hi Kathryn. Thank you for stopping by to read. The Harpy is an interesting looking eagle, especially with his crest ruffled. BYW welcome to HubPages.

Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on March 08, 2013:

With the feathers up, it looks creepy! But otherwise it is a beautiful Eagle. Great information!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on January 15, 2013:

Hi point2make. The Harpy is very strong and capable as you saw in the video of snatching a sloth from a tree. Thanks so much for stopping by and the vote. Have a great day.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on January 15, 2013:

Hi Kris. Yeah, I love that picture with the crest ruffled. What a unique looking eagle. Beautiful. Glad you enjoyed the visit. Have a great day.

point2make on January 14, 2013:

A very good informative hub. I saw a film once that showed a Harpy snatching a sloth from a tree. It was fascinating to watch. Your hub filled in a lot of information that I was unaware of and the photos were great ....thanks. Voted this hub up.

Kris Heeter from Indiana on January 14, 2013:

Very interesting. When the feathers are ruffled, it almost has an owl-like appearance in the face. I've always found birds of prey fascinating. Thanks for sharing this with us!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on January 14, 2013:

Thanks Peggy. I really liked this eagle. With those crest feathers ruffled they have a great look to them. I certainly hope that mankind does not allow this beautiful creature to someday become extinct. Thank you for the vote, share, etc...

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 14, 2013:

This is a great series you have going here. I was unfamiliar with the Harpy Eagle. Talons the size of a bear claw. Yikes! Those sloths and monkeys don't have much of a chance if the Harpy Eagle decides that is what he or she wants to have for dinner that day. Such a shame that they are endangered. Loss of the Rainforest will affect lots of plants and animals...and who knows...maybe even some cures that are yet undiscovered. Up votes and sharing.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 27, 2012:

Hi Phoebe. They are incredible. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

Phoebe Pike on November 27, 2012:

What a beautiful creature! Absolutely incredible.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 04, 2012:

It's such a shame. Deforestation and their slow breeding are going to be a real challenge for the long-term survival of the Harpy. I sure hope they make it as I would love to see one someday in the wild. They are so unique and beautiful, it would be a shame to lose this bird.

Thanks for stopping by.

Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on November 04, 2012:

I live in the Mata Atlantica, part of the traditional range of the Harpy, but unfortunately have never seen one. There is still plenty of alternative prey but the forests are destroyed every year and these birds breed too slowly to really handle all of the changes. It is a real loss.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 01, 2012:

Hi Alicia. Thank you for stopping by. They certainly are an interesting bird, and very large. I would love to see one someday. Very much appreciate the read and support. Have a great day.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 31, 2012:

What an interesting looking bird! I love the photos and the information, Bill. Thank you for all the details.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 31, 2012:

Hi Christy. Thank you. I've had great fun and learned a lot in doing this series. They are all magnificent creatures. The Harpy is just so unique with those head feathers.

Thanks for the read and vote.

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on October 30, 2012:

What magnificent creatures! Your series of hubs is so informative Bill. Vote up, useful, and interesting.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 29, 2012:

Hi Deb. The Harpy doesn't get as much attention here in the states . Hopefully the countries in Central and South America give the plight of the Harpy the attention that it deserves.

Thank you for reading and have a great day.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 29, 2012:

Hi glamourous06. Thanks for reading and welcome to HubPages. I really enjoyed learning about this wonderful eagle.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 29, 2012:

Hi Bill. I wouldn't want to come across one that's hungry. Those talons are amazing and quite the weapon. They are magnificent creatures. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 29, 2012:

Hi Sheila, I too was surprised at their size. They are huge. When those head feathers are up they look down right intimidating. And yes, they are just beautiful.

Thank you for stopping by, vote, etc.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on October 29, 2012:

Hi Carol. Because they are not found here in America most of us have not heard ot he Harpy. I found them to be fascinating and beautiful. Thaks so much for the vote and share, always appreciated.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on October 29, 2012:

Fascinating bird. I hope that I get to see one one of these days. You're right, they have less of a chance than the other eagles, due to their reproductive rate.

glamourous06 from United Kingdom on October 29, 2012:

spectacular lens, thank you so much for sharing

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on October 29, 2012:

I would hate to have one of those birds mad at me! Those talons look a little scary! What magnificent birds! Thank you for introducing us to them; I had heard of them but never seen them. This was really interesting Bill!

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on October 29, 2012:

This is an awesome hub. I love all your hubs on the birds of prey, you always do such a good job. The Harpy Eagle is simply awesome. I did not realize they were so big. I think they are the most beautiful of all the eagles. Voting up and awesome! :)

carol stanley from Arizona on October 29, 2012:

I have never heard of this eagle but I did enjoy learning. I love the photos ...Did a great job Bill in every aspect of the eagle's life. Thanks for share and I will also..Plus a vote+++