Among the largest extant species of eagle in the world, the harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja) is a formidable bird of prey found in the lowland rainforests of South America. They hunt in the canopy; their main prey consists of monkeys, sloths and other arboreal mammals.
The harpy eagle has an impressive plumage, ranging from dark-grey to white. Their head is pale grey and is crowned with a double crest which gives them their distinctive ‘spiky hair’. Arguable, their most stunning quality is their huge talons on their pale yellow feet – the largest talons of any eagle – which they use to firmly grasp and lift prey equal to their body weight (for females this is around 6 to 8kg and around 4 to 5kg for males). With their colossal velociraptor-esque talons you can see how birds evolved from the dinosaurs.
Once fully grown, their wingspan is larger than the average human is tall, nevertheless, they can still soar through the dense rainforest canopy with ease. Their highly evolved sight and hearing senses and extraordinary manoeuvrability allow them to swiftly glide and dodge the huge obstacles in their habitat.
Their mighty powerful talons, majestic wingspan and keen eyesight make the harpy eagle the most powerful raptor in the rainforest. Besides their amazing attributes as a hunter, this species also plays a vital role in the complex rainforest ecosystems by keeping populations stable. Unfortunately, in recent years, their population has fallen considerably and in Central America they are virtually extinct. In South America, they still occupy quite a large range but they are threatened by habitat loss due to logging, cattle ranching, commercial and subsistence agriculture, mining, and urban sprawl. Luckily, organisations such as the Peregrine Fund are helping to conserve the harpy eagle’s habitat and build up their population, for instance, since 1998, the Peregrine Fund has helped by releasing almost 50 harpy eagles back into the wild which is a considerable amount when considering their relatively low population. We have a moral obligation to look after this spectacular bird.