Saturday, 2 February 2013

American Harpy Eagle

order : Falconiformes      Genus & Species : Accipitridae     Family : Harpia harpyja

Casting a sinister shadow over the rainforests of tropical America, the American harpy eagle terrorizes hapless animals that forage in the shifting sunlight of the high canopy. The harpy eagle’s split-second reflexes, needle-sharp talons and a massive, hooked bill leaves unwary animals with little chance of escape. They found from the southern tip of Costa Rica through the Amazon Basin to northern Argentina; has vanished from many former haunts and is now classed as endangered. 

Habitat : The American harpy eagle is found in the extensive tropical rainforests of South and Central America. The eagle spends most of its time high in the canopy and nests only in the tallest trees, such as the giant kapok or silk-cotton trees. Like most other powerful predators, the American harpy eagle is naturally rare, as each pair hunts over a territory of up to 20 sq. miles. But new research suggests that the species occupies smaller territories in Panama and Venezuela and can survive in patches of forest bordering savannah, agricultural land and human settlements. 
Food & Hunting : The American harpy eagle is one of the most aerobatic of all eagles. Spotting its prey from a lookout, it launches out and swoops in at speeds of up to 48 mph. Broad, slotted wings allow it to twist and turn through narrow gaps in the canopy. The eagle may even roll upside down at the last moment before reaching up with its talons, and ripping its victim away with barely a check in its flight speed. The harpy eagle hunts monkeys, sloths and tree-living porcupines and anteaters. It also preys on lizards, snakes, macaws and other large birds, and sometimes hunts pigs and rodents on the ground. 
Behavior : The harpy eagle leads a solitary existence. Even when breeding, the male and female hunt and roost separately, with the female staying on the nest at night to brood the eggs or chick while her mate rests in a tree nearby. Encounters with other eagles are rare, but the female’s larger size enables her to defend her nest from other males should the need arise. For such a large bird, the harpy eagle usually goes unnoticed as it perches statuestill and silent, alert for signs of either prey or intruders. While it is perched, the eagle’s dark upperparts are hard to spot in the dappled light of the forest.The harpy eagle usually only reveals itself by spreading its wings to reveal the pale breast feathers. 
Breeding : Little is known about the breeding habits of the harpy eagle, as its nests are so inaccessible. It is thought they form stable pairs that stay together for the breeding season and possibly for life. Each pair builds a nest of large sticks, lined with leaves and animal hairs, in the crown of a tree 130–160' above the ground.They appear to use the same site regularly, refurbishing the old nest and gradually building it up until it is over 6.5' across. The female harpy eagle lays two eggs, several days apart. Like most eagles, the second egg serves as an “insurance policy.”The elder, and therefore stronger, chick grabs nearly all the food brought to the nest, so the weaker chick soon starves. Only if the first chick dies does the younger one survive.The juvenile depends on its parents for a further 10 months, demanding food from them even when it is able to fly. 

Bill : The harpy eagle uses its bill like a butcher’s tool, to strip meat from the bone.The bill can also sever a victim’s spinal cord for a quick kill. 
Crest : The ruff of feathers on the harpy eagle’s head helps to focus sound into its ears, a useful adaptation under the forest canopy. 
Wings : The powerful wings provide enough lift for the eagle to take off with prey equaling its own weight. 
Feet : The eagle pulls victims off their perches with its powerful feet and thick talons. 
Juvenile : The young eagle’s white and gray plumage is highly visible among the forest greenery. This is no handicap, however, as the harpy eagle has no natural predators. 

Weight : Average 11 lbs.; female heavier than male 
Length : 36-52"
Wingspan : 7.5'
Sexual Maturity : 4-6 years
Breeding Season : Varies with location 

The harpy eagle is named after the harpies — monstrous half-woman, half-bird predators of classical Greek mythology.

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