Wondernose: What bird wears a crown and is so big and strong that it can fly off with a sloth?

by Rebecca Martin | Feb 1, 2022 | 0 comments

Harpy Eagle. Photo © Dreamstime.com.

Your first guess is vulture, because you know that vultures eat meat. However, vultures are not as big as our mystery bird. What’s more, vultures couldn’t actually capture a live sloth and kill it. This bird can. On its feet—which are as big as a man’s hand—it has talons so long and strong that it can grab a sloth, or any animal that size, and crush it to death. In fact, Wondernose, its rear talons can be as long as 5 inches (13 cm). That is longer than the claws on a grizzly bear. This is truly a fearsome bird of prey for any small animals that live in its range.

Crowned Eagle? That’s a good guess, Wondernose. I didn’t realize you knew about the African Crowned Eagle, a mighty bird that’s 30 inches (80 cm) long or more, and wears a crest, or a crown, of feathers that stand straight up from the head. Indeed, Crowned Eagles are the most powerful type of eagle in Africa.

However, I’m sorry to say that you haven’t guessed the answer to our riddle yet. Our mystery bird is at home in Central and South America. It can weigh up to 20 pounds (9 kg), and stand up to 3½ feet (1 m) tall. Its face reminds me of an owl’s. Puffy gray feathers surround huge staring eyes. Oh, what a cruel-looking hooked beak it has! And that crown of upright black feathers gives our bird a truly regal appearance.

It must be an eagle, you say, and you are correct. Have you ever heard of the Harpy Eagle? Some people say it’s the world’s largest eagle; some say it is one of the world’s largest eagles. Either way, it’s a tremendous bird.

Its wingspan is very close to the same as that of a Bald Eagle or Golden Eagle—approximately 6-7 feet (2 m). I was amazed to hear how fast the Harpy can fly through a forest. These eagles reach speeds of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h).

The Harpy’s main food is monkeys and sloths. Since the Harpy lives in tropical forests, that’s understandable. Harpies also eat parrots, opossums, porcupines, and a hundred other things. I wonder how they’d handle a porcupine, don’t you, Wondernose?

Where does a Harpy make its home? It builds a typical eagle’s nest, seeking out the tallest tree on the highest point of land. There it builds a nest from twigs and branches. Stout sticks are woven together to build a platform 4 feet (1 m) across. Year after year the same nest is used. Since the Harpy will build on top of the nest each year with fresh branches, an older nest becomes quite a high-rise. Once somebody kept track of a nest that was used for seventy-five years!

Harpy Eagles lay two eggs at a time, but when one hatches, they ignore the second one. It seems like they have two initially in case one does not hatch for some reason.The chick develops slowly, living on food brought to the nest by the parents. Eventually the chick leaves the nest to dwell in nearby trees, returning to the nest only when the parents bring food. Since the parents stay responsible for the chick for nearly a year, they raise a family only once every two years.

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