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Harpy Diaries: Is Dad Gone?Understanding Harpy Eagle Parental Care

Daniel Couceiro


More than three months have passed since the egg hatched and our chick started its adventure. Now, it is about the same size as a chicken, with well-developed grey feathers that it will keep until it reaches adulthood and leaves the nest, in approximately two years.

Since the chick was born, we have been able to confirm some natural history facts that have been known for a while. For example, harpies are top predators that eat almost anything that can climb trees, like squirrels, howler and capuchin monkeys, coatis, tamanduas (semiarboreal anteater), porcupines, and even sloths.  The role of the female is also interesting to observe. Kee Wai (the female), has taken over and is doing most of the work at the nest, if not everything. During the first couple of months, the male Bawaaja was usually seen more engaged. He helped with the nest construction, incubation, then as the newly hatched-chick developed, Baawaja provided most of the food. But now, on its third month, we barely see him.  Mom is the one bringing most of the prey, feeding the chick, bringing branches with green leaves to the nest trying to cool it off a little bit; she is also the one providing shade to the chick with her body when the sun is hitting straight on the nest; her presence is constant, offering the chick consistent protection.

Precisely, protection is what I want to talk about today. In our video from last week, we showed a potential threat flying over the nest. Harpy eagles are not supposed to have predators. However, as the king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) flew overhead, we saw a clearly defensive attitude from Kee Wai (see below).


harpy eagle and king vulture

 Mom Kee Wai looks at the king vulture as it flies close to the nest. Chick is on alert as well.


So, now we can start to figure out a little bit better why she spends so many hours in the nest with the chick apparently without doing anything that can seem “productive”.

What could have happened if the mom wasn’t there at that moment? Would the king vulture have landed on the nest to feed on the carrion of the prey (skin, bones…) and killed the chick at once?

King vultures are the biggest vultures of the tropical Americas They are known for being pure scavengers. We think the king vulture could have pushed the chick out of the nest and cause it fall to the ground.  In fact, the two first chicks that our couple had a few years back were found dead in the ground when they were just a couple of months old.

My guess is that Kee Wai and Baawaja, have learnt from their failures with their previous chicks and improved their parenting skills to the level of now being able to properly raise a chick to the adult stage (their previous chick left the nest on March 2017).


harpy eagle protecting chick fom vulture

Mom, Kee Wai, adopting a protective behavior towards its chick just a couple of seconds after the king vulture flew around the nest.


Therefore, what continues to be the biggest question is Dad. Why doesn’t Baawaja appear for weeks at a time?  And as the time goes on, even less and less? It doesn’t make sense to me. If he would stay more often in the nest, sharing responsibilities, or at least helping Kee Wai to bring home prey or just by staying in the nest in case of any danger, their chances of a reproductive success would increase significantly.

It is important to note that we just have three months of data with an average of 10-12 hours of observations per day. What I’m sharing with you are not results but preliminary observations on the data collected from the most critical months of the breeding process, when the chick is small, fragile and most exposed to different threats (as we have been seeing so far). So, my thoughts lean towards the unbalance exhibited in the parental care, where the mom carries on with the great majority of the duties. It would be easier to pass their genes to the next generation (the goal of every living being) if the male cooperates a bit more, wouldn’t it? What do you think?




By the way, after three months we think it is time for the chick to be named, so we would love for you to help us out. We will give you instructions on how to participate soon!



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