Harpy Eagle Facts: Meet The Most Powerful Bird Of The Rainforest!

The harpy eagle is a fearsome avian predator that lives in the rainforest canopy. This page contains harpy eagle facts and information. Read on to find out more about this magnificent bird of prey …

Top Harpy Eagle Facts

harpy eagle flying
Harpy eagle in Panama, where it is the national bird. Photo: Mdf [CC BY-SA 3.0]
  • Other Name(s): American harpy eagle, Royal-hawk
  • Scientific name: Harpia harpyja
  • Type of Animal: Class: Aves (Bird)
  • Family: Accipitridae (the eagle, hawk, kite, harrier & Old World vulture family)
  • Where Found: South America, Central America
  • Length: 86.5–107 cm (2.8 ft. in–3.5 ft.)
  • Wingspan: 176-224 cm (5.8 ft-7.3 ft.)
  • Weight Female: 6-9 kg (13.2-19.84 lb.); Male: 4-4.8 kg (8.8-10.6 lb.)
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened
  • Diet: Mainly hunts sloths and monkeys
  • Top Fact: Along with the Steller’s sea eagle and the Philippine eagle, the harpy eagle is one of the top three largest eagles in the world. (All three vary slightly in average weight and length.)

You’ll find more harpy eagle facts at the bottom of the page!


Harpy Eagle Information

Harpy eagles live in the rainforests of Central and South America. They are the largest and most powerful birds of prey of the Americas.

Harpy eagles are also known as American harpy eagles, and (particularly in Brazil) as royal hawks. The species’ scientific name is Harpia harpya.

The harpy eagle is the national bird of Panama.

harpy eagle with prey

Harpy eagles have the largest talons of any eagle, and think nothing of plucking small monkeys or sloths out of trees. These powerful birds are able to lift weights of up to 7 kg (15.4 lb.)

Harpy eagles are the apex predators (i.e. they’re top of the food chain) in their rainforest ecosystems.

(You’ll find out more about the harpy eagle’s diet and hunting methods further down the page.)

What Does A Harpy Eagle Look Like?

Harpy Eagle
Harpy eagles’ plumage is a mixture of dark greys and white.

The back and upper wings of a harpy eagle are dark grey. The undersides and legs are white, and there is a wide grey ‘collar’ around the bird’s chest / lower neck. The legs are white with distinctive black stripes.

The harpy eagle’s neck and face are white, fading into gray at the top of the head. A large feathered crest is raised when the bird is threatened or excited.

It is thought that the feathers around the harpy eagle’s face direct sound towards its ears.

Harpy Eagle Size

Harpy eagles are well known for their large size. They are the heaviest raptors of the Americas.

As is the case with many birds of prey, the female harpy eagle is larger than the male. A likely explanation for this is that by being different sizes the male and female are not competing for the same prey. Female harpy eagles tend to hunt larger animals than the males.

Wingspan

The wingspan of a harpy eagle can exceed 2 meters (6.5 ft). Although this is very large, the wingspans of several similar-sized eagles are even larger. It’s thought that the harpy eagle’s (relatively) small wingspan helps it to hunt in a forest habitat.

The harpy eagle’s body can be over 1 metre (3.3 ft.) in length.

Harpy eagles are built more for a quick chase than a long pursuit, and can reach speeds of 50 mph (80 kmph)!

Andean Condor Flying
The harpy eagle is the heaviest bird of prey in the Americas, but the Andean condor, above, has the longest wingspan.

Weight

Full-grown female harpy eagles weigh between 6 and 9 kilograms. The males are smaller and lighter, tipping the scales at around 4 to 6 kilograms.

Up Close & Personal!

The video below shows just how fearsome a creature the harpy eagle actually is. The presenter seems terrified — perhaps rightly so!

More Harpy Eagle Facts

What Countries Do Harpy Eagles Live In?

Harpy eagles live in Central and South America. Their range stretches from Mexico to Argentina, and they are also found in Panama, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay and Venezuela. They are most numerous in Brazil, and are very rare elsewhere.

Despite being found over a wide area, harpy eagles are sparsely distributed, and are seldom seen.

Harpy Eagle Habitat

Rainforest Trees
Harpy eagles live and hunt in the rainforest canopy.

Harpy eagles usually inhabit the canopy layer of tropical lowland rainforests. Despite their size, they are fast, nimble flyers, and usually hunt in forested areas.

Are Harpy Eagles Endangered?

Harpy eagles are classified as ‘near threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. The harpy eagle’s territory has vastly diminished over the years as a result of deforestation. Despite being protected in several areas, they are also occasionally hunted.

Harpy Eagle Hunting Methods

Harpy eagles are diurnal (active during the day). A harpy eagle’s favored method of hunting is ‘perch hunting‘. It flies from tree to tree in search of prey. When suitable prey is spotted, the eagle swoops down and grabs its victim in its powerful talons.

Another hunting tactic used by a harpy eagle is ‘sit and wait‘ hunting, in which the eagle perches in the same place until suitable prey wanders into range. Harpy eagles have been known to wait up to 23 hours for prey to appear using this method.

Harpy eagles will also hunt other birds by pursuing them through the trees.

Harpy Eagle Diet

Harpy Eagle Prey
Sloths are a favourite food for harpy eagles!

The animals most often targeted by the harpy eagle are sloths and monkeys. The species will also take a variety of other small to medium-sized animals, including mammals such as porcupines and anteaters, reptiles such as iguanas and snakes, and birds such as parrots and the red-legged seriema. Male harpy eagles generally target smaller animals.

Harpy eagles store food that they are unable to eat, and are able to eat meat that is slightly rancid. After a big meal, harpy eagles can go several days without food.

10 Awesome Facts About Harpy Eagles

  1. Harpy eagles are among the world’s largest and most powerful eagles. Their rear talons are about three to four inches long – the same size as a grizzly bear’s claws.
  2. Harpy eagles bring fresh green twigs and branches to the nest even after the chick has hatched. This may help to keep insects and parasites away, and also provide a cooler environment for the chick.
  3. Harpy eagles have the largest talons of any extant (living) eagle.
  4. Deforestation and shooting are the two main threats to the survival of the harpy eagle.
  5. The harpy eagle is the national bird of Panama and appears on their coat of arms.
  6. The design of Fawkes the Phoenix in the Harry Potter movies was inspired by the harpy eagle.
  7. The harpy eagle lays two eggs, one egg is referred to as a “back up” in case something happens to the first egg, or it fails to hatch.
  8. It takes an egg 56 days to hatch, and the young eagles are able to walk and stand after 36 days.
  9. Harpy eagles swoop at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
  10. It can take the harpy eagle three days to digest a meal, and they may only hunt twice a week.

Harpy Eagle Facts: Discover More with Active Wild

We hope that you enjoyed learning about harpy eagles.

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5 thoughts on “Harpy Eagle Facts: Meet The Most Powerful Bird Of The Rainforest!”

  1. I would like to set the record straight on these majestic eagles .
    This is fact in 1972 I seen one of these eagles in my Grandmas yard. It was flying west from the achafalaya basin in louisiana I was in the town of arnaudville where my family the B roussards have lived for over 150 years . Yes I had my cousin a witness with me.
    I would like to point out this eagle I seen wings were longer than the cattle gate that was 12 feet . When he flew over it his wings stretched past the ends of the gate . I thought it to be a extinct bird from the dinosaur age.
    I did take a shot at it with my pellet gun a 22 caliber Benjamin pump rifle pumped 10 times . Only because when he turned to look at me he was looking at me like food im 1/2 cajun 1/2 cherokee. I was an avid hunter and thanks to my grand mother I was charged with sitting under her fig trees when the figs began to ripen.
    The worst bird was the mocking bird they would just peck holes in the figs to draw in bugs to eat.
    but back to the eagle . When I shot he just shook his head and gave me a look like yummy some food. My cousin said lets run and grab its legs and we can catch it! I said are you insane look at the size of his leg and claws and that beak is ten times bigger than my moms largest parrot and they will bit the end your finger right off.. I said and I just shot and it didnt even bother it . But it looked at me like I was food ain’t no way im grabbing that thing. Well he took a running distance of 20 feet flapped his wings barely cleared the gate and when he flew right over the trees the chicken trees tops waved like a wind from a hurricane was blowing in.
    I have never been able to tell my story cause no one would believe me. Ya know they all said it was like the fish story I caught a fish this big ya know.
    Well thats my story of how at 13 years of age in the summer of 1972 I seen the. First of these birds until the PBS special a few. Years ago. . I finally could tell all my. Family that thst was the bird I had seen .
    well I hope they are protected well. Also when it blinked its eyes they changed colors when closed then back to other color I t was blue when he plinked about scared the pants off me.
    I was lucky I seen this eagle that had been living in Louisiana swamps. And bayous. I believe It to be the last one left in Louisiana. I hope this post will help shed some light on the true size. Of these beautiful but dangerous birds. At least when thier hungry and you happen to be a 12 year old. Lol

    Reply

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