The Harpy Eagle - Panama's National Bird

 
3,318Views 0Comments Posted 02/05/2024

The Republic of Panama’s Esteemed National Bird – The Harpy Eagle

This formidable (near mythical) creature has a wingspan of up to 7 feet, with talons larger than a grizzly bear’s, measuring up to 5 inches.  Harpy Eagles are known as the largest eagle in the world at 3 feet in height, with females twice as large as the males, weighing in at up to 24 pounds.  It’s no mystery why these magnificent birds have often been mistaken for men sitting in trees.

Known as top predator, Harpy Eagles keep prey populations in check, thus remaining a very important strand in the intricate web of the ecosystem.  Their main food sources include tree-dwelling mammals, such as sloths, monkeys and opossums.  The Harpy Eagle is monogamous for life and only raises one chick at a time, regularly reusing the same nest for up to three decades.

As the Harpy Eagle prefers mature forests for nesting, populations face uncertainty when faced with human conflict.  With no known predators, and with habitat loss due to the creation of new roads, slash-and-burn farming and forest fires, the Harpy Eagle is considered critically endangered in Central America, and rapidly declining in South America.  Unfortunately, land clearing and farming have been accountable for a whopping 40% loss of the world’s Harpy Eagle population since 1800.

Primary Harpy Eagle populations can be found in South America in countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru and northeast Argentina.  They are also found in Central America, although populations are much smaller. 

Panama’s Darien Gap is home to ±200 breeding pairs, known as the largest population in Central America.

Education and ecotourism are giving Harpy Eagles a fighting chance, as the prospect of seeing one of these mystical and rare birds in the wild is driving tourism to be an important and sustainable source of income for the native people of the rainforest and land owners who can still help save these vulnerable birds, while continuing to make a living.