Despite being the largest and most powerful bird of prey in the Western Hemisphere, the harpy eagle is now threatened across its entire native range in Central and South America. Finding a harpy eagle nest in the Amazon is an event so rare that wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer immediately booked a flight to Peru after receiving a Facebook message indicating that two of his colleagues had spotted one of the elusive bird’s treetop nurseries. The trip was a massive success, allowing the photographers to capture images and video of the evasive eagles.
“We were incredibly lucky to be able to sit in a tree for two days right next to a family of them,” Cremer said in a press release. “What makes that especially rare is the fact that a pair of harpy eagles nest just once every two or even three years.”
Cremer was notified of the nest sighting by fellow photographers Lucas Bustamante and Jaime Culebras, who found the nest in the Peruvian Amazon’s Tambopata Region. The photographers used climbing harnesses to ascend 12 stories through the jungle canopy for a glimpse at the chick and its parents. By a stroke of luck, the three men were able to witness the mother bringing in a porcupine for the chick’s lunch. Later, a massive male eagle returned with a sloth in tow.
“In my country, Ecuador, there is an Amazonian tribe called the Huaorani,” Bustamante commented. “They believe that they are descendants of the Jaguar and the Harpy Eagle. They worship these two animals as their gods and view them as being very important to the jungle. After being face to face with an Harpy Eagle it is easy to see why they believe that. Finding myself in the jungle with that mythological creature, was like being in front of a legendary Griffin.”
Cremer equally likened the sighting to that of seeing a mythical creature.
“Its so rare it’s like seeing a unicorn,” he said.
Harpy eagles are immensely powerful apex predators capable of feeding on larger prey than most other eagles. The harpy usually dines on an array of sloths, monkeys, reptiles, and even fully-grown deer and pigs. Large prey is usually flown a short distance to an elevated branch where they are consumed or torn into pieces for longer journeys. The animal is so bold that harpy eagles are sometimes considered a threat to livestock.
Habitat loss has drastically reduced the species’ numbers. The harpy eagle is nearly extinct in Mexico and parts of Central America, while it is considered vulnerable in much of South America. Its rarity and attractiveness also make it a prime target for poachers.
“I’ve seen Jaguars, Tapirs and Puma and have even been the first person to film new species but seeing the Harpy Eagle feed and interact with its chick was really amazing,” Cremer said.
You can watch a video of the harpy eagle chick below. See more photos by Cremer, Bustamante, and Culebras here.