With its expressive face, collar of feathers, and black and grey tones, there's no denying that the harpy eagle is a striking creature. But if its distinct appearance isn't impressive enough, its height and wingspan certainly are. These powerful birds of prey can reach up to 3 feet 5 inches in height, with an overall wingspan of up to 7 feet 4 inches—making them look almost like a puppet out of Jim Henson's Labyrinth.
Its incredible size and unique appearance has made the harpy eagle quite a popular figure on the internet. Photographs of the large eagle often pop up on Reddit, where people marvel at its size. For a quick comparison, a female bald eagle averages up to 12 pounds, while the female harpy eagle weighs between 13 and 20 pounds. As female eagles are always stockier than their male counterparts, it's worth noting that a male harpy eagle will weigh between 9 and 13 pounds.
Despite its overall large size, its wingspan is actually a bit shorter than some other eagles—this is due to habitat. These rare birds live in the upper canopy of tropical lowland rainforests from Mexico to Brazil and northern Argentina. The shorter wings help them navigate better through the forest, as opposed to other eagle species that mainly fly in large, open areas. Still, the harpy eagle remains the largest extant eagle in the world.
In terms of appearance, its black, grey, and white feathers are identical in both males and females, with the raised feathers on its head giving the bird a quizzical expression. If the harpy eagle's goth look wasn't fearsome enough, take note of its powerful talons. The rear talons are actually bigger than the claws of a grizzly bear and measure 5 inches in length. In fact, no other eagle has talons so large. With such power, it should come as no surprise that the harpy eagle is at the top of its food chain.
So what do harpy eagle's eat? Sloths and monkeys are favorites for this raptor. They rarely soar long distances. By preserving their energy, they have more than enough strength to pick up small animals weighing up to 17 pounds. Silent hunters—they don't vocalize much—these eagles will sit for hours on end in a perch, just waiting for a meal to walk by. Capable of flying up to 50 miles per hour, it's no problem for them to then swoop down and snatch their food.
Sadly, harpy eagles are becoming a rare sight across Latin America as rainforest deforestation diminishes their habitat. As harpy eagles are monogamous and raise just one eaglet every two years, even a slight downturn in numbers can make population recovery difficult. The loss of this apex predator in some environments is a huge blow to the ecosystem. For instance, their hunting of animals like capuchin monkeys helps keep the populations in check naturally. This is important because these monkeys eat eggs from bird nests and, if not kept under control, could cause the extinction of other species.
The harpy eagle is the world's largest extant eagle and has talons bigger than a Grizzly bear's claw.
They are native to the upper canopy of lowland rainforests but are losing habitat through deforestation.
Many are now also found in zoos and nature reserves across North and South America.
More Harpy Eagle Facts
- The first written record of the harpy eagle is in Carl Linnaeus' 1758 Systema Naturae. He describes the bird as the Vultur harpyja, named after the Greek mythological spirit that had the body of an eagle and the face of a human. This is why many people think the bird is only a myth.
- Harpy eagles are the rainforest’s largest and most powerful bird.
- Harpy eagles and the African crowned eagles claim the title of the world’s strongest eagle.
- They are strong enough to crush bones with their talons. (They can apply over 110 pounds of pressure.)
- Harpy eagle nests are sparingly spaced out over large amounts of rainforest and well hidden up in the trees' huge canopies. This makes them extremely hard to find and study.
- Their huge, durable nests made from sticks measure around 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) deep and 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) wide.
- Panama officially adopted the harpy eagle as its national bird.
- Although they're birds of prey, there are some uncommon cases where harpy eagles have been attacked and eaten by ocelots and jaguars.
- Harpy eagles are known to “steal” livestock from commercial businesses, such as chicken, lamb, goats, and even piglets.
- Similar to an owl, harpy eagles move their facial feathers in order to direct sound waves to their ears and improve hearing.
- The harpy eagle was the inspiration behind the design of Fawkes the Phoenix (Dumbledore's animal companion) in the Harry Potter film series.