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Harpy Diaries: Dad Swoops in During a Storm – But Why?

Daniel Couceiro

Greetings from Refugio Amazonas – I have just returned to our research site in Tambopata after a break, and have recently gone through HarpyCam´s footage of the past two weeks.

First off - take a look at how fast the chick is growing!

One way you can observe this is how his feather patterns are changing and how active he is becoming. In the next HarpyCam videos, featured on our YouTube channel, you will be able to see how lively the chick is nowadays.


Baby Harpy Eagle Chick

Besides the growth of the chick – we have some incredible footage from a recent storm. The behaviors the harpy exhibited has me asking many questions. Let me start with the one that is driving me nuts: I wonder if the chick could had survived without dad´s protection… let´s check details.

I observed on August 13th at 14:43 : The chick stands alone in the nest, and suddenly, a strong wind starts blowing, coming from the north. Just one minute later, Baawaja (the dad) shows up and places himself between the strong wind and the chick. The wind increases, moving all the branches around and the trees behind the nest. A storm has taken over the forest rather suddenly.

Three minutes later at 14:46 : Rain starts to fall; the chick shook out its body and places itself comfortably between Baawaja´s legs. In this position, the chick is completely protected by him from the winds of the storm. Because of the strong wind, the camera is a bit out of focus, and the sky darkens so much that I can barely see what is happening in the nest while the rain strikes Baawaja’s back (see image below).


Harpy Eagle : Dad protecting baby harpy chick

Two minutes later, the nest is surrounded by the storm. The nest is shaking so ferociously, it must seem like the end of the world for the harpys.  But, Baawaja undeterred stands on his massive talons taking the brunt of all the rain and the wind on his back, always protecting the chick. The branches of the tree shake violently and at this point, our camera is not even pointing at the nest.  - I wonder, how´s the chick doing?  



14:49 : The wind and the rain subside. Our camera is able to focus back on the nest and in between the clouds the silhouette of Baawaja becomes visible again.

Little by little, the jungle comes back to normal, the leaves of the trees start to reflect the sun and I can see that Baawaja is completely soaked, but safe and sound. I can also spot a white “thing” between his legs,  that´s the chick!  -Sigh-  I am relieved to see he is doing okay.

Finally, fifteen minutes after the storm had stopped, Baawaja steps back. Every single drop of water shining on all his feathers, and the chick appears, not just safe, but also dry. 

Harpy Eagle Dad after the storm

Dad protected his son – without any hesitation. Two minutes later, he leaves the nest, and here is the interesting party – for the last thirdteen days, we haven’t seen him at the nest at all!

So, as you can imagine, I’ve got a long list of questions!

First, why the Dad is coming so rarely? During the incubation period, he was the one in charge of feeding Kee Wai (the Mom) while she was on the nest doing the hard work, but since the egg hatched, he has only shown up five or six times, mostly to bring a prey and leave right after. It seems that Kee Wai is carrying most of the responsibility in hunting, feeding the chick and bringing branches to the nest to cool it down and repel the community of insects that fly around.

But, in the very moment where this powerful storm came, he appeared to protect the chick. What could have happened to the chick if he hadn’t shown up? Could it have fallen to the ground? The wind was so strong, in my opinion, to have been able to make it fall. The chick is getting bigger fast, but I don’t think that it was big enough to stand without dad’s help.

How is that possible, that just 20 seconds after the wind started to blow, Baawaja was ready to protect his chick, even though he rarely shows up at the nest? Did he know, before it started that it was going to be so powerful, so dangerous that the chick might not survive? Are Harpy Eagles so intuitive?

Another question: Why didn’t Kee Wai appear during the storm? She is the one that is usually is around the nest and tends to hunt, feed the chick and bring branches to the nest – so her absence seems more noticeable. Maybe she wasn’t around? Maybe she thought that the chick could stand with the storm?

These and other questions come to my mind since I have seen that video. I don’t know the answers, I am just trying to put things in order to figure out how these wonderful raptors behave, and, as you can see, I have a hard but incredibly exciting work ahead.

I would like to read your opinions, so if any of you think that you can shed some light about the questions I posted here, I will be glad to see how you interpret what goes on with our feathered family!

Contact me directly: wiredamazon@rainforest.com.pe 

More to come in October!

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