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36 Harpy Eagle Facts: World’s Most Powerful Eagle (Harpia harpyja)

Posted in: Ecuador Animals, Ecuador’s Amazon Jungle

Looking for details about the magnificent harpy eagle? In this post, you’ll find 36 harpy eagle facts, including size, strength, talons, range and more. Plus tons of photos and videos.

Harpy Eagle
As you go eagle spotting, don’t forget a pair of binoculars and a good camera with a zoom lens. These will increase the odds of spotting and shooting a harpy eagle in the wild.

36 Harpy Eagle Facts (Harpia harpyja)

Birds of prey are captivating creatures, and the harpy eagle especially so. Native to Central and South America, this raptor is among the largest and most powerful in the world. It is named for its similarity to a mythological beast, and some people believe it is merely a legend.

Want to learn more about this fascinating eagle? Check out the following harpy eagle facts.

Harpy Eagle Overview

  • Latin name: Harpia harpyja
  • Range: Mexico, Central and South America
  • Population Status: Fewer than 50,000
  • Size: Height: 35 to 41 inches (89 to 105); Weight: 8.5 to 20 pounds (3.8 to 9 kg)
  • Wingspan: Up to 6.5 feet (2 m)
  • Diet: Tree-dwelling mammals (sloths, monkeys, squirrels), birds, iguanas, snakes
  • Physical features: Huge black and gray raptor with massive claws
  • Where it lives in Ecuador: Amazon Rainforest

Watch  on YouTube

1. Where does the harpy eagle live?

In the wild, the harpy eagle’s range is found from Mexico through Central America and all the way down to northern Argentina in South America.

2. What is the habitat of the harpy eagle?

The harpy eagle prefers hanging out in the canopy treetops of lowland tropical rainforests. This large eagle species requires big trees and wide territories in order for its numbers to flourish.

3. Where do harpy eagles nest?

Harpies build their nests high in the tallest trees of the jungle. They construct their nests with hundreds of sticks and branches as well as plants and animal fur. By the time they are finished, a nest can be large enough for a grown human to sleep comfortably.

Harpy eagles often use the same nest over and over, adding more materials to it each time so that it becomes enormous.

Watch on YouTube

4. What does the harpy eagle look like?

As one of the largest and most powerful raptors in the world, the harpy eagle looks pretty intimidating. In addition to its large body and broad wingspan, it has massive talons, and legs that are each as thick as a human wrist.

  • It has a gray head that is crowned with a double crest of feathers that fan out when the harpy feels threatened, or if he just wants to strut his stuff.
  • It also has a sharp beak that is long and curved.
  • Like an owl, the harpy has facial disk feathers that can be lowered or lifted at will. This helps direct sound waves to the harpy’s ears much the same way as when you cup your hand around your ear.
  • The harpy’s chest, back and upper wings are a charcoal color while the belly is white. Adding a unique flare to the harpy’s appearance are black and white striped legs and a black/white barred tail.
Harpy Eagles

5. How tall is a harpy eagle?

An adult harpy eagle grows between 35 and 41 inches (89 and 105 cm).

6. How much does a harpy eagle weigh?

An adult female can weigh up to 20 pounds (9 kg). This is about two times heavier than the male which weighs up to around 12 pounds (5.4 kg).

For scale, here’s an old video showing how large it is next to Jeff Corwin. Sorry it’s a little fuzzy – it’s worth it to see just how large they are.

Watch on YouTube

7. What is the harpy eagle’s wingspan?

A harpy eagle’s wingspan ranges from 5.9 to 7.4 feet (176 to 224 cm).

Did you get that? This means that from wing tip to wing tip, the harpy’s wingspan is longer than most adult humans are tall.

8. Are harpy eagles bigger than bald eagles?

Yes, they are. Whereas bald eagles reach a height of about 37 inches (94 cm) and weigh up to 14 pounds (6.35 kg), harpy eagles measure a height of 41 inches (105 cm) and a weight up to 20 pounds (9 kg).

9. How big are harpy eagle talons?

The adult harpy eagle’s talon is about 5 inches (13 cm). To give you an idea of just how large that is, a grizzly bear’s front claw just 2-4 inches!

Harpy eagles have the largest talons of any eagle. Source: Raptors of the World: A Field Guide

Harpy Eagle talons Harpy eagle size

10. How did the harpy eagle get its name?

The harpy eagle gets its name from a beast in ancient Greek mythology that featured the face of a human and the body of an eagle, and was the personification of storm winds. This mythological beast was believed to accompany the dead to the underworld.

Carl Linnaeus, the “father of taxonomy” and Swedish physician, zoologist and botanist, was the first to describe this eagle as the “harpy vulture” in the mid-18th century.

11. How strong is the harpy eagle?

The harpy eagle’s legs and talons are so strong that it can exert more than a 110 pounds (50 kg) of pressure to quickly crush the bones of its prey. The harpy’s powerful talons have been compared to the jaws of a Rottweiler dog.

12. How much can the harpy eagle lift?

A female harpy eagle can fly through the canopy and snatch up a 17-pound (7.7kg) monkey out of the trees without missing a beat.

13. What is the world’s strongest eagle?

This is debated. Depending on how you rate them, both the harpy eagle and the African crowned eagle have been considered the world’s strongest eagle.

And while the crowned eagle is Africa’s strongest eagle, most sources list the harpy eagle as the world’s strongest.

14. What’s the national bird of Panama?

The harpy eagle is both the national bird and featured on the coat of arms for Panama.

harpy eagle

15. Are harpy eagles friendly? Aggressive?

Well, the harpy eagle is not exactly friendly, but it’s not exactly aggressive either. Conservationists say that a harpy eagle will sit on a perch and allow a human to approach it, but it’s doubtful it would allow you to reach out and pet it.

Ranking at the top of the food chain, side-by-side with anacondas and jaguars, the harpy eagle has no reason to act afraid. However, it will behave aggressive if anything comes near its nest. But, all parents are like that, aren’t they?

16. How long do harpy eagles live? Lifespan

Harpy eagles can live anywhere from 25 to 35 years in the wild.

17. What eats a harpy eagle? Predators and Threats

As mentioned above, these eagles share the head of the food chain with jaguars and anacondas, so nothing really eats them.

Unfortunately, they are threatened by human hunters who shoot them for sport. Plus, years of logging and deforestation have destroyed their nests and habitats so that their range is not as wide as it was in the past. Their population numbers are difficult to replace since they only breed every two years.

18. Are the harpy eagles real?

If you’ve read this far, you know that they are real.

But rumors exist that these are only mythological creatures. The idea that harpy eagles are just a legend might be because they are rarely seen. They occupy large territories that compose hundreds of acres but seldom stray far from their nests. This is why you don’t see them that much.

19. Are harpy eagles extinct?

No, harpy eagles are not extinct.

But due to habitat loss and hunters, many of their numbers have been eliminated from areas they once occurred in such as El Salvador. In Belize, only a single nesting pair of harpy eagles has been observed.

20. Is the harpy eagle endangered?

No, the harpy eagle is not endangered, but it is listed as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

21. What do harpy eagles eat?

The diet of harpy eagles consists mainly of tree-dwelling animals such a monkeys (including squirrel monkeys and pygmy marmosets), sloths, opossums, iguanas, and snakes. They will also eat large birds like curassows and macaws, including the magnificient scarlet macaw.

Females often take larger prey while the males may take smaller animals more frequently. This team strategy ensures adequate food on a regular basis. When hunting, they will take heavier prey to a nearby tree stump and eat some of it before carrying the rest to their nest.

Harpy eagles don’t need to eat every day. In fact, they can go a week without food. They will often feed on the same prey for a few days at a time even if has already begun to rot.

22. Do harpy eagles eat snakes?

Yes, harpy eagles eat snakes, along with a selection of mammals and other birds. While they wouldn’t likely hunt an adult emerald tree boa, their young make a nice meal.

23. How do harpy eagles hunt?

Harpy eagles hunt during the day. They don’t hunt above the rainforest like other eagles. Instead, they sit on a perch for hours at a time, waiting for prey to happen along.

Harpy eagles have excellent vision, so they can spot a bird or monkey nearly 220 yards (200 m) away.

When they do set their sights on a potential meal, they fly below the forest canopy, taking chase up to a speed of 50/mph. Once they quickly catch up to the animal, they swoop down and snatch it up with their powerful talons.

Harpy Eagle talon size

24. What is the harpy eagles Latin name?

  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Accipitriformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Subfamily: Harpiinae
  • Genus: Harpia
  • Species: H. harpyja

25. What other names does the harpy eagle have?

In Brazil, the harpy eagle is sometimes called the royal hawk.

26. Do harpy eagles mate for life?

Harpy eagles are monogamous and pairs may mate for life.

Since they have a lifespan of 35 to 45 years, this means a bonded pair may stay together for 25 to 30 years (longer than many human relationships).

27. At what age do harpy eagle lay eggs?

A female harpy eagle begins to lay eggs when she is sexually mature which is usually between 4 and 5 years old.

Male Harpy Eagle with chick

28. How often do harpy eagles lay eggs?

Harpy eagles lay eggs every two or three years. The reason for this is because they are devoted parents who love to spoil their kids. They won’t mate or lay any eggs until their current youngsters are independent.

Even though chicks are ready to fledge at five or six months of age, the parents will continue to feed them up to 10 months. The young eagles will remain with their parents one or two years so that they can learn how to hunt and be a top predator of the rainforest.

Watch on YouTube

29. How many eggs does the harpy eagle lay? What do they look like?

Harpy eagles usually lay one to two large, white eggs. The female will do most of the incubating, but the male will occasionally take over to give her a chance to stretch her wings.

Scientists have observed that while harpy eagles often lay two eggs, they usually only raise one chick. They believe the eagles purposely stop incubating the second egg once they see that the first has hatched successfully. If something happens to the first egg, they then use the second one as a backup plan.

30. What is the harpy eagles call?

These eagles seldom vocalize away from their nest.

When the female is incubating eggs, the nearby male wails with a “wheeeeee…wheeeee…wheeeee” sound. The female responds in a similar fashion but with a different pitch.

When approaching his nest of hatchlings, the male will let out chirps, sharp screams and goose-like calls. Perhaps this is to let his family know, “Don’t be scared. It’s just Dad coming home.” As the hatchlings grow older, the male will vocalize less frequently.

When alarmed or distressed by exposure to rain or too much sun, nestlings will sound out a “chi-chi-chi-chi” call. Juveniles are known to make croaking, whistling and quacking sounds.

31. Are harpy eagles loud?

Harpy eagles aren’t loud as in “Stop that racket, you’re driving me crazy!” but their occasional calls do sound loud and shrill in the rainforest.

32. Do harpy eagles carry disease?

Harpy eagles can carry viral diseases such as West Nile Virus (transmitted from mosquitoes); Newcastle Disease (contracted from infected birds and contaminated water); and avian pox (spread by other birds).

They can also develop other diseases such as bumblefoot (bacterial disease); Aspergillus (fungal infection); and frounce (yeast infection).

However, it is highly unlikely that a human would get a disease from a harpy eagle.

33. Where can I see the harpy eagle?

If you are in North America, you can see the harpy eagle at the following zoos:

In Central America, the Belize Zoo features a restoration program where you can see and learn all about harpy eagles. Panama also offers rainforest expeditions where you may have the chance to see these eagles.

Harpy Eagle in South America

More reading: Guide to Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest Animals

In Ecuador, harpy eagles have been known to inhabit these wildlife parks and reserves:

When in South America, one of the most exciting ways to see harpy eagles is by taking a guided Amazon tour. A skilled guide can take you where these eagles are known to live and nest.

Do they like people? In rehabilitation programs, these eagles sometimes do become familiar with humans. But, this is not really a good thing because they can become dependent on humans and may starve when they are released back into the wild.

34. Does the harpy eagle migrate?

No, it does not migrate. Harpy eagle pairs establish wide stretches of uninterrupted forest territories in which they continuously hunt and live.

35. What other eagles is the harpy eagle related to?

The harpy eagle is closely related to the New Guinea harpy eagle (Harpyopsis novaeguineae) which inhabits New Guinea. Also, the crested eagle (Morphnus guianensis) which is also native to Central and South America.

36. What does the harpy eagle tell scientists about its ecosystem?

Because the harpy eagle is considered an apex predator (at the top of the food chain), its population numbers indicate to scientists the condition of the whole forest ecosystem in which it lives.

If the harpy eagle population is healthy and has plenty to eat, then this means that all of the eagle’s prey are likely to be healthy and abundant as well.

Harpy Eagle facts

Learn more about another raptor from Ecuador, the Galapagos hawk.

Your Turn

Did you already know about this amazing raptor before reading these harpy eagle facts? Would you like to see this eagle in person, or do you need more information? Let us know in the comments!

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Meet the Author

Dena Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. She is a travel blogger and content marketer. She is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

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