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Specialized Adaptations of the Harpy Eagle

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Harpy eagles (Harpia harpyja) can be found in tropical rain forests across Central and South America, from Mexico to southern Brazil and northern Argentina. It's not easy to hunt and thrive in a forest environment as a bird of prey, but these birds have a range of specialized adaptations to help them out.


With a wingspan of roughly 6 1/2 feet and weighing up to 20 pounds, harpy eagles are amongst the largest in the world. This gives them an enormous advantage as a predator as they can snatch up large prey. They've been known to hunt primates, sloths, other birds, reptiles and even small deer. They can carry prey of roughly half their own body weight. Although large, they're skill fliers and weave between tree trunks with ease.


Among the more formidable features of harpy eagles are their 5 inch talons, which are as long as a grizzly bear's claws. Once in their grasp there's no escape. However, these scary appendages also have an additional, less sinister, use -- they allow these birds to perch securely.


Harpy eagles construct impressive nests of roughly 5 feet wide and 4 feet thick -- between 90 and 140 feet above ground level. They construct these nests from fresh green branches -- which may help to reduce the amount of parasites -- and line them with animal fur and soft vegetation. These nests provide a secure and insulated environment to help their chick survive, which is far enough above the ground to avoid most potential predators.


Several adaptations help harpy eagles catch and feed on their prey. Their vision is magnificent. They are able to see something smaller than an inch from almost 220 yards away. As they can fly at speeds of up to 50 mph, they can quickly dart through the trees to catch their large prey. Once caught, feeding isn't a problem as this species possesses a pointed and extremely sharp beak, that can easily tear through flesh so they can devour their dinner.