The Harpy Eagle – The Most Majestic Bird of Guyana

 Jul 25, 2021  Kaieteur News – Often on the wish list of many birdwatchers, the Harpy Eagle can be found in the untouched canopies of the Kanuku Mountains and Iwokrama Rainforest. This is according to www.guyanatourism.com which notes that pristine tropical rain forest is the perfect home for this  Kanuku Mountains and Iwokrama Rainforestmajestic beauty as it offers them ample prey to feed.

This Harpy eagle spotted near the CJIA runway last week. (Photo Credit: Mike Charles)

The Iwokrama River Lodge, Atta Rainforest Lodge, Rewa Eco-Lodge and Surama Eco-Lodge make the ideal launch pads to spot this species in the North Rupununi. Along the coast, the magnificent bird can often be spotted near the village of Warapoka, www.guyanatourism.com adds.

The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is a neotropical species of eagle. It is also called the American harpy eagle to distinguish it from the Papuan eagle, which is sometimes known as the New Guinea harpy eagle or Papuan harpy eagle. It is the largest and most powerful raptor found throughout its range, and among the largest extant species of eagles in the world. It usually inhabits tropical lowland rainforests in the upper (emergent) canopy layer. Destruction of its natural habitat has caused it to vanish from many parts of its former range, and it is nearly extirpated from much of Central America. In Brazil, the harpy eagle is also known as royal-hawk (in Portuguese: gavião-real). The genus Harpia, together with Harpyopsis and Morphnus form the subfamily Harpiinae.

Carl Linnaeus first described the harpy eagle in his landmark 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae as Vultur harpyja, after the mythological beast harpy. The only member of the genus Harpia, the harpy eagle is most closely related to the crested eagle (Morphnus guianensis) and the New Guinea harpy eagle (Harpyopsis novaeguineae), the three composing the subfamily Harpiinae within the large family Accipitridae. Previously thought to be closely related, the Philippine eagle has been shown by DNA analysis to belong elsewhere in the raptor family, as it is related to the Circaetinae.

The species name harpyja and the word harpy in the common name harpy eagle both come from Ancient Greek harpyia (ἅρπυια). They refer to the harpies of Ancient Greek mythology. These were wind spirits that took the dead to Hades or Tartarus, and were said to have a body like a vulture and the face of a woman.

Distribution and habitat
Rare throughout its range, the harpy eagle is found from Mexico, through Central America and into South America to as far south as Argentina. In rainforests, they live in the emergent layer. The eagle is most common in Brazil, where it is found across the entire national territory. With the exception of some areas of Panama, the species is almost extinct in Central America, subsequent to the logging of much of the rainforest there (having been completely extirpated from El Salvador, for example).

The harpy eagle inhabits tropical lowland rainforests and may occur within such areas from the canopy to the emergent vegetation. They typically occur below an elevation of 900 m (3,000 ft.), but have been recorded at elevations up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft.). Within the rainforest, they hunt in the canopy or sometimes on the ground, and perch on emergent trees looking for prey. They do not generally occur in disturbed areas, but regularly visit semi open forest/pasture mosaic, mainly in hunting forays. Harpies, however, can be found flying over forest borders in a variety of habitats, such as cerrados, caatingas, buriti palm stands, cultivated fields, and cities. They have been found in areas where high-grade forestry is practiced.

Status and conservation
Although the harpy eagle still occurs over a considerable range, its distribution and populations have dwindled considerably. It is threatened primarily by habitat loss due to the expansion of logging, cattle ranching, agriculture, and prospecting. Secondarily, it is threatened by being hunted as an actual threat to livestock and/or a supposed one to human life, due to its great size. Although not actually known to prey on humans and only rarely on domestic stock, the species’ large size and nearly fearless behaviour around humans reportedly make it an “irresistible target” for hunters.

Such threats apply throughout its range, in large parts of which the bird has become a transient sight only; in Brazil, it was all but wiped out from the Atlantic rainforest and is only found in appreciable numbers in the most remote parts of the Amazon basin; a Brazilian journalistic account of the mid-1990s already complained that at the time it was only found in significant numbers in Brazilian territory on the northern side of the Equator. Scientific 1990s records, however, suggest that the harpy Atlantic Forest population may be migratory.

Subsequent research in Brazil has established that, as of 2009, the harpy eagle, outside the Brazilian Amazon, is critically endangered in Espírito Santo, São Paulo and Paraná, endangered in Rio de Janeiro, and probably extirpated in Rio Grande do Sul (where there is a recent (March 2015) record for the Parque Estadual do Turvo) and Minas Gerais – the actual size of their total population in Brazil is unknown.

Globally, the harpy eagle is considered near threatened by IUCN and threatened with extinction by CITES (Appendix I). The Peregrine Fund until recently considered it a “conservation-dependent species,” meaning it depends on a dedicated effort for captive breeding and release to the wild, as well as habitat protection, to prevent it from reaching endangered status, but now has accepted the near threatened status.

The harpy eagle is considered critically endangered in Mexico and Central America, where it has been extirpated in most of its former range; in Mexico, it used to be found as far north as Veracruz, but today probably occurs only in Chiapas in the Selva Zoque. It is considered as near threatened or vulnerable in most of the South American portion of its range; at the southern extreme of its range, in Argentina, it is found only in the Parana Valley forests at the province of Misiones. It has disappeared from El Salvador, and almost so from Costa Rica.

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Comments

  • the only  On 07/26/2021 at 6:37 pm

    I thought the most majestic bird of Guyana is the TOW TOW.

  • Chris  On 07/26/2021 at 8:07 pm

    It’s called towa towa.

    • Ramesh  On 07/27/2021 at 2:31 pm

      The Towa-Towa can be found across Central and South America. In Brazil, this great songbird is known as ‘Curio’ and ‘Chikichong’ in Trinidad.

      Guyanese love to keep them in a cage. Some are neglected and abused by their captors.

      It’s a tragedy to see the majestic, imposing Harpe Eagle coming to the brink of extinction in the Americas because of their disappearing habitat and because they are targeted by selfish, uneducated people who kill them for various unfounded reasons.

      Ramesh

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