Saturday, September 17, 2011

Creature Feature: Harpy Eagle.

Is anyone else annoyed by bald eagles being the only eagles ever portrayed in art? I have respect for the birds - nothing wrong with them as birds - but it feels like, whenever any source mentions an eagle, screenwriters immediately find a baldie for the role. If you want an ubiquitous eagle, look for a golden eagle. Clash of the Titans had a bald eagle, and that was set in Greece. Greece, not America, the only place where bald eagles actually live. No, I will not get over how terrible that movie was no less than five seconds in. 


Eagles are majestic birds, bald or not. They are usually considered the kings of the skies and are are often associated with divinities. Many such tales come from places without bald eagles, movie producers. Spread your wings a little.


Queen among kings is the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja). This impressive bird is native to the rainforest areas of Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Yes, speak of the devil: the bird is named after the hybrid bird-women that tormented King Phineas by eating his food and befouling the rest. They were also tormentors in Hades, a tradition which carried on in Dante's Inferno. Ask the right person and being tortured by naked bird-women sounds like heaven instead of hell, but to each his own.

Eons ago, you could have been that rabbit. Just sayin'.

Harpy Eagles are impressive birds, even if they are not as freakish as their mythical namesake. The Harpy Eagle bears the title of the largest and heaviest eagle in the world. As with most raptors, females are larger than males, allowing different sexes to catch different prey. The heaviest recorded female, a captive specimen named "Jezebel," weighed 12.3 kg (27 pounds). Trust us, this is pretty heavy for a flying bird, and a heavy bird can catch heavy prey.

Big birds need big prey. The rainforests of Central and South America have plenty of larger animals in the form of sloths, monkeys, kinkajous, and other tree-dwelling mammals. Larger monkeys are also fair game. Just so one can appreciate HOW deadly these eagles can be, here is what happened to an unwary sloth:

Suddenly staying in the trees does NOT sound like a good idea.

Yeah. It is totally relevant that "harpy" translates to "snatcher" in Greek.

On a note only tangentially related to Greek mythology, the Harpy Eagle was the basis for Fawkes, the phoenix from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. You probably did not recognize the phoenix without his red CGI and pheasant tail feathers. Finally, the largest eagle in the world got its due.


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