Fierce harpy, daytime raptor that lives up to its name


Those unfamiliar with the fierce harpy can only wonder what monster nature could have spawned upon hearing such a name. It is a particularly impressive bird that we invite you to discover in this article.

The fierce harpy in the Accipitridae family

The fierce harpy is from the Accipitridae, a family that brings together most of the diurnal raptors, or nearly 260 different species. The size of these birds varies considerably, the smallest measuring only 20 cm while the largest measuring 1.50 m.

Their common points are as follows:

  • a hooked beak with a wax, fleshy thickness that protects the nostrils,
  • powerful legs ending in 4 fingers with long, curved and sharp talons,
  • a sharp binocular view,
  • sexual dimorphism, the male being smaller than the female,
  • a carnivorous diet (with the sole exception of the palm vulture).

Within this family, the fierce harpy (Harpia harpyja) is the only species of the genus Harpia.

Description of the fierce harpy

The fierce harpy is a eagle which is generally one meter high (the smallest measuring 80 cm). Its wingspan is double and can reach 2.20 meters. Its weight generally oscillates between 5 and 9 kg. The bird is considered the largest and most powerful eagle in South America. He can live 40 years.

Its body is blackish above and white below. The head is white, topped by an erectile crest and with a blue-black bill. When we have the leisure to observe this bird, it is its legs that we immediately notice, so thick are they. They are yellow in color, streaked with black bands. Greenhouses can reach 6-10 cm. Studies have shown that the pressure of the paws can be greater than that of the jaw of a wolf.

Despite these impressive characteristics, this eagle is not considered the most dangerous bird in the world: it is the helmeted cassowary that has this honor, all the more problematic as it is less and less afraid of humans. .

The call of the fierce harpy is quite similar to that of many eagles, transcribed by wiiiiiii. It is in the nest that the bird is heard the most, being quite silent the rest of the time. Different calls are heard when the adults are incubating, when they bring food, and are well distinguished from the calls of the young.

What does the name fierce harpy mean?

The fierce harpy was first described in 1758 by Carl von Linné, a Swedish naturalist who laid the foundations for the modern two-name nomenclature system (in which the first word circumscribes the genus and the second designates the species at breast of this kind). Carl von Linnaeus then pointed to the bird of Vultur harpyja, or harpy vulture. The identification will then evolve towards that of an eagle.

The English vernacular name (harpy eagle) is more explicit than its French equivalent. The reference to harpies remains constant. But do you know who they are? These are three deities present in Greek and Roman mythologies. They appear in the Odyssey, the story of the quest for the Golden Fleece, and in the Aeneid. Monsters with the body of a bird and the face of a woman, they are the instruments of divine vengeance – and even the gods were not beyond their reach – and sow devastation. They make people tremble all the more because they are invulnerable. They have become a benchmark in everyday language, a harpy denoting an aggressive, mean and cantankerous woman.

So what about a fierce harpy? What harm can such a creature be capable of?

How does the fierce harpy feed?

In reality, the fierce harpy is not a monster but only a extremely efficient predator, exclusively carnivorous, which does not hesitate to hunt many animals, depending on what is in its environment: sloths, parrots, raccoons, snakes and even some monkeys can thus compose its meals. Arboreal species have their preference. It can lift prey with a body mass equivalent to its own, and it is not uncommon for the bird to catch prey weighing more than 7 kg.

You might think that the bird needs space, given its wingspan, but it proves to be agile enough to move at low altitudes in tropical forests. It reaches peaks of 80 km / h.

More often than not, fierce harpies roost and can wait a long time, positioning themselves strategically near a water point where many animals pass by to quench their thirst.

Reproduction and nesting in the fierce harpy

Harpies behave like most eagles: monogamous, they are couples united for life. However, each bird has its hunting territory and they live separately to meet only for reproduction, from June to November. A spawning takes place only every two or three years.

The nests are built very high in the trees (30 to 50 meters high), with a predilection for the kapok tree, large tropical tree also called cheesemonger. The structure of the nest is made up of branches, which are then lined with leaves and moss.

The incubation period is 30 days. The female lays one or two eggs but only one young will be born, the female stopping the brooding from the first hatching. The young tries to fly after six months and will not leave his parents until the age of one.

Where can you meet the fierce harpy?

Formerly, its presence extended from Mexico to Argentina. Today, the fierce harpy has all but disappeared from Mexico. It is more present in Brazil.

Located at the top of the food chain, it knows no predators. But human activities (agriculture, animal husbandry and logging) threaten its natural habitat and the harpy has now disappeared from certain regions, particularly in Central America.

This eagle is now considered a near-threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with estimates bringing the population to less than 50,000 individuals.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Wilkins