Harpy eagles are formidable predators. Considered to be the most powerful eagle in the world, harpy eagles share the apex of their food chain with jaguars and anacondas. They’re massive birds, with wingspans of more than seven feet, and can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
At over five inches in length, their talons are bigger than a grizzly bear’s claws, which they could use to not only grasp a human skull but crush it with relative ease.
Thankfully, harpy eagles don’t hunt humans. They do, however, go after much larger prey than your average bird. Their favorite meals include monkey and sloth, and they’re known to carry animals of 20 pounds or more to their nest for dinner.
Now, harpy eagles can crush bone with their ferocious talons, capable of producing several hundred pounds of pressure with a single flex. But that doesn’t mean they always do. On the contrary, they often keep the bones of their prey whole, using them in the structure of their nests.
So when researchers who had been observing a harpy eagle couple noticed that they abandoned their longtime home, they weren’t surprised by what they found among the branches.
Littering the massive nest were dozens of remains, including bones, beaks, nails, feathers, and armadillo shells. They also found pellets, i.e., regurgitated balls of non-digestible material such as hair and bones.
Some of the skulls do appear eerily human. Not to worry, though, they’re the skulls of monkeys…as far as we know.
Harpy Eagles Are a Threatened Species
Harpy eagles are virtually invulnerable in the wild. Sadly, however, their position on the food chain does nothing to protect them from habitat loss, which has slowly diminished the world’s harpy population. Harpies are highly particular about their homes.
They prefer a nest at least 100 feet from the forest floor. Widely spaced branches are also a must, as the path to and from their home must accommodate their incredible wingspan. Harpy eagles need several square miles of forest to thrive, as they’re non-migratory.
Harpies are monogamous and mate for life, the adults working together to protect and feed their young. And rather than swap nests with the seasons, they stay in the same nest for many years, remodeling over time with sticks and bones to keep their home clean and safe for their family.
Because Harpies are such dedicated parents, they don’t produce many offspring in their 25 to 35-year lifetime. At most, a Harpy couple might raise a single eaglet every two years.
Between logging and poaching, harpy populations have steadily declined over the years. There are now less than 50,000 harpy eagles left in the wild.